Thursday, January 15, 2009

Art Nouveau Circus Gypsy Hobo!

Studio electives are one of the most enjoyable experiences on our campus. They give students the opportunity to take courses from all over the school, allowing a sampling of each major/medium to be chosen from. Fall of 2008 I was able to take my first fiber elective while at the school. Strange, as I almost majored in this department. I chose painting as my main course of study, but I was teetering on a three sided fence between sculpture, fiber and painting. I also considered interdisciplinary department, which allows a more self directed, not medium specific study, but I learned early on that painting is accepting of many different types of creating, and I have been happy for the most part. The fiber elective is one I have mentioned before, the Costume elective, taught by Georgiana Leondre, who herself is a working professional costume designer. I learned so much and had a wonderful time. Favorite class of the semester, no doubt. Loved it so much in fact that I am taking another fiber elective this coming semester and am starting an internship with Georgiana also. It is going to be an awesome year! To recap, I thought I would show all that I did last year in the fiber elective.

This first photo shows the mock up for the first costume I made. All of the fabric for this dress is recycled/reused/vintage. To color coordinate fabric which is in limited supply, all being found/sold at different places was honestly the hardest part of this project. The body of the dress is this amazing light mint silk that was at the bottom of a scarf bin in my favorite thrift store warehouse. The lower level is fabric from a friends dance costume that she no longer fit into and donated to my artists supply collection. The bright purple is a vintage silk from a friend who knew my love of the color purple. I saved it for years waiting for the right project to come along. In the middle of the dress is some more silk chiffon which has this great pale pink/mint green sheen to it that changes at every angle. Beautiful.The inspiration for this dress was found in the Art Nouveau art period which was widely loved and used as basis for graphic design, furniture and house wear design and illustration in mainly the United States and Europe. This swirling nature inspired design period was at it's peak from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. It saw it's premature overlooking when Art Deco followed soon after, and then the Arts and Crafts movement came too. Alas the Art Nouveau period still remains deeply ingrained in the design world of today. A resurgence has happened with hints of it's forms and graceful lines, angelical shown women and celebratory lifestyle being so popular that hundreds of books are now available on the subject. This is how I came to learn and love the Art Nouveau period. Through all of my readings though, one artist in particular has become a source of inspiration for me across the board. That man is Alphonse Marie Mucha. You can find a link to a museum dedicated to him on the left. I highly suggest you look into him and his art work. It is phenomenal. Here is an example of some of the women he drew and painted.

These next two photos show the finished dress, which was given inspiration from the dresses Mucha created to cloth the girls in his illustrations. Most of the women were in fantasy environments, or personifications of an idea or natural element. I studied every illustration I could find of his to fully understand his garment ideal. This dress pattern is not a copy of one found on a particular Mucha girl, but a combination of elements from my favorite dresses. The outfits, jewelry and accessories he would draw were merely fantasy, never really existing outside of his mind, but they had basis from the clothing styles of his time. Most of the outfits he would put on his voluptuous natural women would show skin in a very sensual way, and the fabric would drape to highlight the female form. He celebrated the way a woman's body was meant to be. The tweaking I decided to do was add a bustle in the back, hitting just at the lower back, to give accordance to the dresses found on women in Mucha's real life. Corsets, large goofy shoulders and huge bustles were all the rage in this time. Muchas's women were provocative and faerie like. I combined the structure of the bustle which exaggerates women's bodies and the flowing natural form of his dresses to highlight curves. This creates a dress that is inspired by the past but combines to create a completely unique juxtaposition. Here on the left you can see the bustle, which is also made out of revamped material. There is more of the deep purple silk, some other vintage silks, a layer of mesh peacock print from a friend, and an under layer made from light gray velvet.

The straps holding up the dress are made of a collection of vintage jewelry chains and findings that mimic/are inspired by the jewelry that Mucha would have his girls wearing. His designs were so beautiful it was in jewelry and objects of personal adornment that the world got to see his illustration come to life. He designed a limited line for one jeweler who made a small collection of jewelry based on the ones Mucha drew on his women. My dress weighs almost 20 pounds total and the straps themselves are triple on each side, with a large gathering clasp in the back to support the bustle. Not a dress to be worn on the everyday. Then again, neither were the ones designed by Mucha. The bustle alone, true to form and tradition, weighed ten pounds! This is nothing compared to real bustles from the 1920's, but with only a month to find materials, design and construct, I didn't have the time to find vintage whale boning and build the under carriage. Wanted too, simply was not an option due to time.

These next two photos were taken at Tal Wilson's Photography studio in the Crossroads District between downtown and midtown in Kansas City. The chair of the fiber department arranged for our class to have the wonderful opportunity to catalog our creations professionally. This was a blessing because it gave us a chance to show the personality behind the costume, coming up with poses and accessories to use for the shoot. I made a head band with a large brown poppy as the center piece and lots of small detailed flowers made from vintage fabric and beads. I also created a small flower arrangement held inside a posy container. These two items can be seen in all the photographs. And of course, I made jewelry for this outfit too. For the shoot itself I brought along one of my Art Nouveau Mucha books to help me re create some of the posing he drew his women in. I also wanted to show the draping of the fabric and details within the bustle layering. Tal was an amazing photographer and helped set up wonderful shots. My teacher coached me on where to place my hands and how to move my body to help create the body shapes I wanted. In my opinion, these photographs capture everything I wanted to create. Inspired by Art Nouveau and the artists Alphonse Mucha, this dress is a dream come true for me. Oddly enough, the open back panel rests right above my lower back tattoo which I had gotten two years prior. It is a black line drawing of one of Mucha's girls looking up towards some sparrows.

Then it came time to create the second costume. For this next departure, I went a very different route, though I still stayed in the fantasy realm. Though I have a great disdain for the modern day circus which is notorious for overworking their animals and abusing them (which is a big issue for me) I love the mood and magic of the whole environment. The old days of Barnum and Bailey were filled with wonder and mystery that has always drawn me in. And so I turned to a source of muse found in tents and carriages. The modern fantasy creation of Cirque De Solei also was a large point of interest, but not so much the Lycra but more the colors and forms they create with their costumes. Also the stylized forms of Gypsy clothing and details of each item their create were found to very inviting and inspiring. Funny enough, the last bit of imagery that came to mind when thinking of where to start from was the traditional idea of hobo, train hoppers, and sad homeless entertainers from the 1950's. Though their situation was always one of grim nature, it seemed to me they were portrayed to the public eye as happy go lucky types of people who took their role with a grain of salt and a smile. So my next costume would be one of Circus Hobo, if you will. Not much explanation is needed for these next few photos, so I will let them talk for a while.
Yet again, all fabric and materials were either already owned or salvaged. The vest top is a quilt of many different types and colors of material from all sorts of places. The brown is from a dancers headband, pink comes from same thrift store fabric bin mentioned earlier above, green is curtain material, yellow was a long scarf, and red was found in my closet. The closure and patterning of the vest is based on the style from European Gypsies, with the long penguin tales in back for a bit of funny ending. The bright yellow really pops against the other colors. The skirt is layers upon layers of vintage fabric, scrap lace and yards of vintage tulle in a kaleidoscope of colors. Tights were already owned and shoes and scarf were purchased at thrift store. The top hat was added to give the outfit a ringleaders touch and I added the feathers, beads and glitter I already owned. The black lace top underneath the vest I already owned. Jewelry I made from supplies I already had. Pretty good for barely spending any money huh? Art school is very expensive. Art kids have to be master thrifters!
All but the last photo is taken by Tal Wilson also. The first shoot was very serious to create the sensuality of the outfit. This shoot however was very fun! I had a blast just goofing off and acting like a clown.


  1. I like your Nouveau photos! You should place those photos in a design a la Mucha. It's so much easier to cut out a photo now in Photoshop & draw the design in Illustrator and put them together than it was in Mucha's day! I love that you made that dress. I was an art major in college and I was one class away from haveing a textile minor, so I can appreciate your work!

  2. I love your Mucha inspired dress you created!
    Absolutely stunning! Wish you were here in Colorado because I'm planning a Mucha inspired photo shoot in Sept. 2009
    Wish we could use your dress in our shoot...

    Well wishes to you & your continuing creative endeavors!

    If you'd like to check out my photography portfolio my website is:

    Angie Barnes

  3. Love your mucha photos. Well done, really gorgeous!