Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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The Journey of a Chinese Robe: Part 4

In ancient Chinese culture, a robe is a symbol of status depending on the colour, the quality and decorative elements of the garment. In order to compare the robe in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2016.01.001) to others in other collections,  dress historian and curator, Ingrid Mida and I visited the Textile Museum of Canada to examine similar robes. In August 2018, we studied one robe that was similar in colour, rank and decoration  (T88.0261), and another robe that once belonged to someone of much higher status (T92.0276) . In the last blog post of this series, I will compare the two robes at the TMC to the one in the Ryerson collection and consider the use of symbolism and colour to represent rank.

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T88.0261. Photograph by Maciek Linowsk. Courtesy of the Textile Museum of Canada.

The first robe (T88.0261) is quite similar to the one in Ryerson’s collection (FRC2016.01.001) in that the colours are alike, the striped hem is identical, and there is even a stain in the same area on the lower front. However, the structure of the robe is slightly different. The sleeves are shorter and have a curved opening whereas FRC2016.01.001 does not have the same detail. The robe at the TMC has slits up the front and back of the garment, but the back one has been hand stitched closed. It is believed that front openings allowed for easier movement when horseback riding. The robe in the TMC has significant discolouration and staining implying that it was worn quite often. There is even a section in the left armpit that has been replaced with a different piece of fabric. It is probable that the area was repaired due to heavy wear.

T88.0261. Detail of hem, brass closure and sleeve. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

Nine dragons have been woven into the robe. The four dragons around the neckline point to each cardinal direction when aligned at a certain point in the Forbidden City. The two dragons on either side of the robe represent the intermediate directions and the dragon on the inside of the robe satisfies the “well-field system”. This idea is based on the wu xing system which is a harmonious balance represented by the nine dragons as fields (note 1).

Ingrid and I were able to find seven of the Eight Precious Things including the rhino horn (happiness), books (learning), medicinal mushroom with a handle (health and healing), coins (wealth), pearls (granting of wishes), leaf (good luck and disease prevention) and the open lozenge (victory). The symbols always come in groups of eight since eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture (note 2). However, after hours of searching, we were not able to find a motif that explicitly looked like the solid lozenge (unbroken conjugal happiness). Ingrid suggested maybe the diamond pattern in the background was representational of the solid lozenge as the pattern is continuous and never breaks. We decided that that was the most probable answer.

All eight of the Eight Auspicious Things have been woven into the robe. This once again, reinforces the idea that the garment belonged to someone of higher status. The parasol protects from the obstacles of life. The fish swim without fear or resistance from happiness. The vase brings the fortune of a glorious life. The lotus frees one from all the stains of mistakes. The conch shell accomplishes work for the benefit and happiness of themselves and others. The glorious peu supports others in one continuous connection. The banner symbolizes victory and the Wheel of Dharma represents the teachings of Buddha (note 3).

T92.0267. Detail of fish, conch shell and glorious peu. Photograph by Ingrid Mida, 2018.

Aside from the Eight Precious Things and the Eight Auspicious signs, the robe is also covered in bats. As mentioned in the last post, the word for bat has the same pronunciation as as abundance and happiness and therefore a bat represents a long life of happiness. There are also peonies which represent prosperity, another symbol seen on the FRC robe as well. A new symbol that I have not seen before looks like it has the head of a dragon and the body of a fish. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any information of this creature.

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T88.0261. Detail of dragon-fish creature. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2018.

The second robe (T92.0276) has all the same symbolic elements as the previous robe; all eight of the Precious Things and the Auspicious Signs, other floral elements and bats. However, the key difference is in the quality of materials and degree of detail. The main aspect that sets this robe apart from the other one is the gold leaf threading (note 4). Yellow reveals in itself that it was worn by someone of high rank as the colour “was reserved for monks and the Emperor” (note 5). More detail also went into the creation of the motifs such as the additional embroidering in the dragon eyes. Even the balls used for the closures are larger and more decorative.

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T88.0261. Photograph by Maciek Linowsk, Courtesy of the Textile Museum of Canada.

The robe is in immaculate condition and has hardly any signs of wear. The sleeves are full length with a section of black brocade and additional detailing. The trim that lines the sleeves and neckline is more decorative than the other robes with yellow and black floral designs. Rather than a plain silk lining, a gold patterned brocade lines this robe with no slits on either front or back. An aspect that is quite surprising is the misalignment of the fabric on the back. The patterns do not perfectly line up which is surprising for a garment of such quality and value.

   T92.0267. Detail of hem, lining and misaligned fabric. Photograph by Ingrid Mida, 2018.

The background pattern of both of the robes include swastikas. Before it ever had any negative connotations associated with it, the swastika was a symbol used in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. In Buddhist culture, the swastika symbolizes auspiciousness and eternity and is often used on maps to locate a temple (note 6).

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T92.0267. Detail of swastika. Photograph by Ingrid Mida, 2018.

After days of research and hunting for symbols on these robes, I have learned that nothing is ever as it seems. A geometric shape may represent mountains or the placement of dragons can hold a very significant meaning. Even the colour of a garment can separate the Emperor from his court officials. In conclusion, these robes tell us about the beliefs and values of people in China from more than a hundred years ago. These garments can help us understand the traditions and lives of people from another culture. And finally, it can provide a very unique and captivating story.

Notes:

Note 1: Vollmer, J. E. (2004). Silks for thrones and altars: Chinese costumes and textiles. Paris, France: Myrna Meyers.

Note 2: Kozakand, R. (2017, September 4). Dragon robes of the qing dynasty. Retrieved from http://folkcostume.blogspot.com/2017/09/

Note 3: Rinpoche, L. Z. (2014, February 4). The eight auspicious signs. Retrieved from https://fpmt.org/mandala/archives/mandala-for-2014/july/eight-auspicious-signs/

Note 4: Information provided by Textile Museum Collection.

Note 5: Daveno, H. (2016, October 2). The stitchery series: part iv – symbolism in chinese embroidery. Retrieved from http://www.augustphoenix.com/The-Stitchery-Series-Part-IV–Symbolism-in-Chinese-Embroidery_b_70.html

Note 6: Swastika. (2016, April 4). Retrieved from http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php?title=Swastika

This post was edited by Ingrid Mida. 

A special note of thanks goes to Roxane Shaughnessy, Senior Curator, Manager of Collection, and her staff at the Textile Museum of Canada for providing us with access to these beautiful robes. 

 


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Drawing Habits: Learning to Look Attentively at Dress

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Ingrid Mida (right) with workshop participants discussing the embellishment on a 1920s dress fragment, Photo by Victoria Hopgood

On Friday, July 20, 2018, artist Sarah Casey and Dress Detective Ingrid Mida offered a drawing workshop hosted at the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op in Toronto. In this workshop, participants were introduced to methods of examining and interpreting garments through drawing.

 

 

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1920s Dress Fragment from Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Photo by Victoria Hopgood

Participants were able to draw selected artifacts from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, principally dress fragments and other garments whose poor condition precluded them from being accessioned. Too beautiful to go into the bin, these objects are considered ‘dead artifacts’ but were retained for just such a purpose – as creative inspiration.

 

Participants were led through a series of drawing exercises by Ingrid that she uses in the classroom to help students learn the Slow Approach to Seeing from The Dress Detective.   Some of these exercises are included in a chapter written by Ingrid included in Teaching Fashion Studies, edited by Holly Kent (Bloomsbury 2018). Sarah also guided students through mark making exercises to encourage students to consider different methods of creating texture and invoking the sensation of touch.

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Ingrid Mida discussing the artifacts from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Photo by Sarah Casey

 

 

After lunch, Ingrid gave a talk about the artifacts from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. She also discussed how she unravels narratives related to dress artifacts and  encouraged participants to think about the personal stories revealed in garments as well as considering the broader cultural values reflected in fashion. Sarah gave a demonstration of egg tempera on acetate and workshop participants then experimented with a variety of papers and mediums.

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Sarah Casey demonstrating egg tempera, Photo by Ingrid Mida

In the end, each participant reflected on how the workshop resonated with their own practice and all left with a deeper appreciation of the merits of slowing down to look and to draw.

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Workshop participants, Photo by Victoria Hopgood


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FRC Research Appointments Fall 2016

For the fall term, research appointments in the FRC will generally be available on Mondays 830 am – 2 pm and Wednesday afternoons 130-6 p.m., as well as on Thursday afternoons between 4-6 p.m. The last appointment can begin no later than one hour beforehand.

Appointments must be booked in advance and are not available on short notice. Depending on the garments requested, it can take an hour to set up for a single appointment. Please make your requests with as much notice as possible. 

For tips on how to make an appointment and what type of information is needed so that I can best help you with your research question, please click on the tab at the top: “How to make a Research Appointment.”

I generally advise that students read Chapters 1-5 of my book The Dress Detective: The Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion before their appointment.
Dress Detective_Cover_LRThere are two checklists at the end of the book to guide you through the steps so that you can make the most effective use of your time. It will also be helpful to read or peruse the case studies in the book, which include historic garments, couture, undergarments, bridal wear, and menswear. This book is available online through the Ryerson library portal.

 

Other tips to help you make most of your appointment:

1. Do some reading in advance. Read about the designer, the time period or the type of garment that you have asked to see. For example, if you are going to study this dress by Balenciaga, read about the designer in advance. Or if you are asking to look at dresses from the Edwardian era, know the characteristics of the period. Knowing what you might expect to see will help you recognize when something is unusual. Garments have complex histories and might have been altered by the wearer.
2. Look up similar garments or designers in other collections. More museums are offering parts of their collections online. These usually do not come up in a Google search. Visit the websites of the largest collections of costume such as the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to access and search their online collection and ancillary scholarly material.
3.  Bring the right tools. Your tool kit might include a pencil, notebook, camera (with the flash disabled), and perhaps a measuring tape and magnifying glass.
4.  Wash your hands before your visit and be prepared to wear gloves. Leave dangling jewelry, long scarves and big backpacks in your locker.
5.  Slow down. Turn off your phone and other distractions. Make a mental shift to be present and engaged.

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Cream silk damask bodice with high neckline, extended sailor collar, and gigot sleeves with ribbon closure at cuff, front hook and eye closures, cream satin bow at chest, pink, green blue and cream vertical beaded trim at neckline, cotton interior lining with boning, self-fabric asymmetrical belt. C. 1890-1895. Donated by Alan Suddon, FRC 1999.06.066          Photo by Ingrid Mida, 2012.

 


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Looking forward and back – The Summer of 2016 in the FRC

The halls of Kerr Hall West have been quiet over the summer. And yet, behind the closed doors of the FRC, there has been a hub of activity. I have been doing inventory and updating the catalogue, processing donations, fielding loan requests and research questions from around the world.

In part that level of interest in the collection can be attributed to the release of The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion in November 2015. This book, which I co-wrote with Alexandra Kim, highlights some of the many treasures in the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson and also includes a checklist-based approach to object-based research in fashion. Sold round the world and on the shelves of several prominent European museums including the V&A Museum in London as well as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, this book has transformed Ryerson’s little-known collection of dress artifacts into a place that international scholars want to visit.

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Cover of The Dress Detective, Cover Image by Ingrid Mida

This summer I welcomed scholars from as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom who come to study objects in the collection. I also fielded research inquiries from the USA, Japan, UK, and Australia. There is no doubt that the FRC is a hidden jewel within Ryerson.

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Sarah Casey at work drawing artifacts in the FRC, Photo Ingrid Mida, May 2016

A memorable event for me was the visit of artist and prof Dr. Sarah Casey from the United Kingdom. Sarah has drawn artifacts from the collections of Kensington Palace and also at the Bowes Museum in the UK. She uses these drawings as a way of expressing ideas of temporality. After reading The Dress Detective and finding an affinity for the “Slow Approach to Seeing”, Sarah came across the pond for a visit – not once, but twice this summer. She drew a variety of artifacts from the collection, including gloves, bonnets, 19th century undergarments, and an exquisite 19th century two-piece gown.

What all these pieces shared in common was that they had been somewhat forgotten – not often requested or considered “important” as artifacts. Sarah drew these pieces and time will tell how she transforms lines on paper into something else altogether. This collaboration brought me back to my roots – as an artist – and reminded me that creativity is part of who I am and what has led me to this place. I have rekindled my drawing practice with a curator’s sketchbook and have resumed drawing as a meditation and as a research tool.

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Curator’s Sketchbook by Ingrid Mida 2015.99.002A

It is a pleasure and privilege to be able to share the many wondrous objects in the FRC with students, faculty and visiting scholars.

What is your area of research? Have you thought of visiting the FRC?

 

 

 


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The Language of the Kimono

by Ingrid Mida, Acting Curator/Collection Co-ordinator

Kimonos, long associated with the cultural fabric of Japan, have their own language. For example, ‘Kimono o kiru’ means ‘I’m going to wear kimono.’ Although this loose-fitting, T-shaped garment is worn by both men and women, and generally constructed out of lengths of a standard width fabric, every element of the garment serves to communicate aspects of the wearer’s identity, including age, gender, class and even the formality of the occasion. The type and colour of fabric, the length of the sleeves, the presence or absence of crests, and the type of accessories worn with the kimono can all be read like texts.

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Kimono, silk. ca.1930s. FRC2013.03.005

In 2013, three silk kimonos were donated to the FRC, including this blue-gray silk kimono with padded hem and red silk lining (FRC2013.03.005). The donor indicated that these garments were acquired by her grandparents in the 1930s during a trip to Orient, but it is not known whether the kimonos were purchased to be worn as loungewear or to be kept as souvenirs. The donor was not aware of any associated obi or other accessories that would normally be worn with these garments. Kimonos were collectible items and some versions were made expressly for export to western markets (note 1).

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Detail of textile, kimono ca.1930s. FRC2013.03.005

The radiant colour and pattern of this plain weave silk furisode (long-sleeved) kimono is a signal of youth. As a woman aged, she was expected to wear more subdued colours and patterns would be confined to the hem (note 2). In this kimono, the pattern appears relatively high on the body and depicts a landscape scene with cranes, turtles, flowers, and cherry trees in blossom. Parts of the scene have been over-embroidered with silk thread or gold thread. The red silk lining is visible on the neckband (eri), at the hem and as the sleeves move. The hem is thickly padded (hikisuso). At one time, such padding was associated with “aristocratic ladies and high prostitutes of the Edo period,” but is now often adopted for “the modern version of the traditional wedding ensemble” (note 3). The sleeve-length of a kimono is another element that is linked to gender and age, and these swinging sleeves are mid-length. They do not fall all the way to the ankle and this length is associated with a semi-full dress for unmarried women (note 4). The rounded corners of the sleeve are also markers associated with the garments of a single female.

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Detail of sleeve, kimono FRC2013.03.005

The kimono body (mihada) is atypical in that it has a horizontal seam at mid-body where the patterned material has been attached to the blue-gray silk. There would not normally be a seam here as typically the garment would be shortened by folding the extra fabric under the obi (note 5). This seam suggests that its western owner shortened the kimono so that it could be worn without an obi. The inside lining also shows evidence of unpicked basting stitches would have been used during laundering of the kimono.

This beautiful kimono is rife with meaning. Intended for a young, unmarried woman perhaps for her pending nuptials, we will never know whether it was actually worn for that purpose. Nonetheless, it serves as a primer of kimono connoisseurship.

Note 1: Terry Satsuki Milhaupt, Kimono: A Modern History, London: Reaktion Books, 2014, 234.

Note 2: Liza Dalby, Kimono: Fashioning Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993: 196-197.

Note 3: Ibid: 92.

Note 4: Ibid: 167.

Note 5: Annie Van Assche, “Interweavings: Kimono Past and Present” in Fashioning Kimono. Dress and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Japan. London: V&A Publications, 2005.

References:

Dalby, L. (1993) Kimono: Fashioning Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Milhaupt, T. (2014) Kimono: A Modern History. London: Reaktion Books.

Van Assche, A. (ed.), (2005). Fashioning Kimono. Dress and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Japan. London: V&A Publications.


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Upcoming Event: ICOM Costume Committee Study Day

Balenciaga Gown and Bolero, ca.1955-1960, FRC1992.01.019ab

Balenciaga Gown and Bolero, ca.1955-1960, FRC1992.01.019ab

Ryerson University School of Fashion will be the host of the International Council of Museums Costume Committee Study Day on Tuesday, September 8, 2015.

This event is open to students who are interested in historic dress and/or museum studies and will be held on campus. A limited number of tours of the FRC facility will also be held.

Advance sign-up is required. Interested students must rsvp by September 3, 2015 to Ellen Holzan at ellenhlozan@hotmail.com. Seating is limited to 50 students. 

Programme Details:

12:00 – 1:00 Pre-event Tours of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

1:05 – 1:15 Welcome, Announcements, and History of Student Saturday/Tuesday Ellen Hlozan and Vicki Berger

 

1:15 – 1:35 Ingrid Mida, Ryerson Fashion Research Collection Co-ordinator, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada –The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and A Preview of “The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion” 

 

 

 

 

1:35 – 1:55 Isabel Alvarado Perales, Interim Director, Museum of National History, Santiago, Chile – The artistic representation as a source of knowledge of the history of women’s clothing in Chile: the case of José Gil de Castro and Raimundo Monvoisin

1:55 – 2:15 Vicki L. Berger, Ph.D., Retired Curator of Costume and Textiles, North Carolina Museum of History; Phoenix, Arizona, USA – A 1942 World War II American Bride: Anita Ruth Bonham Crawford

2:35 – 2:50 Q & A Session with first group of speakers

2:50 – 3:30 Refreshment break and Tour

 

Fashion Victims Cover3:30 – 3:50 Alison Matthews David, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, Fashion MA, School of Fashion, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada – Preview of “Fashion Victims

 

 

 

 

3:50 – 4:10 Meg Wilcox, Wardrobe Supervisor, Sherbrooke Village Restoration, Nova Scotia Museum, Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, Canada – Challenges and Triumphs in Costuming Historical Sites Challenges

4:10 – 4:30 Sofia Pantouvaki, Ph.D., Scenographer and Professor of Costume Design for Theatre and Film, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland – Performance Costume in the Absence of the Body

4:30 – 4:45 Q & A with speakers

4:45 – 4:55 Farewell and Adjourn Ellen Hlozan and Vicki Berger

4:55 – 5:25 Post-event Tours

 


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Looking forward and back

By Ingrid Mida, Fashion Research Collection Co-ordinator

The halls outside my door are mostly empty. It is the summer term and time to take inventory – literally and metaphorically. I’ll be checking what’s in boxes and on racks against the locator tags on the inventory files. It is tedious and time consuming work, but necessary to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the database, as well as make it easier for me to find artifacts requested for research appointments. I also thought it would be a good time to take stock of all that was accomplished this past year and highlight some of the projects that took place in the Fashion Research Centre.

MA Fashion students at work in the FRC

MA Fashion students at work in the FRC

My primary focus of the year was accessioning and rehousing the nearly 600 artifacts that came to Ryerson from the Cleaver-Suddon Collection. This rich collection, a legacy of the late Alan Suddon that was sustained by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver, has added much depth to our collection, especially in terms of nineteenth century artifacts. The oldest garment dates back to 1815 and is a long sleeved morning gown in a most delicate muslin with embroidered dots. Contemporary pieces include labels like Jenny, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Pierre Cardin, and Givenchy. For a lovely photo gallery of images, please see the article by Kathleen McGouran in the Ryersonian here. I also wrote a blog post about one of my favourite pieces from that donation here. There are also many photos on my twitter page.

Schiaparelli label inside fuchsia, purple and blue turban ca. 1950s FRC2014.07.148

Schiaparelli label inside fuchsia, purple and blue turban ca. 1950s FRC2014.07.148

As well, we received about 60 artifacts from the National Ballet of Canada including a tutu that dates from one of their earliest performances. I spent some time in the National Ballet archives to understand what material might be available to students who wish to do research on these costumes and have written a paper myself called “Biography of a Tutu” which I’ve submitted for peer review. Hopefully it will serve as an example of how students might approach this type of research.

And of course, we had many visitors to the Fashion Research Centre, including several class groups from Foundation I, Curation, Scenography, and Fashion Theory II. Outside visitors included a group of visiting scholars and curators from the Jackman Humanities Institute Fashion in the Museum Working Group, as well as a group of former CN Tower elevator operators who saw my tweet about the CN tower uniform for 1976 designed by Pat McDonagh.

Ingrid Mida (in blue sweater) with Scenography Class

Ingrid Mida (in blue sweater) with Scenography Class

Graduate student projects included research into menswear tailoring, sustainability in historic terms, Japanese designers, the wardrobe of Barbara Moon, embroidery and beading techniques, pink dresses in history, and corsets.

Embroidery on black crepe evening gown, ca. 1935 FRC2014.07.422

Embroidery on black crepe evening gown, ca. 1935 FRC2014.07.422

In the absence of dedicated exhibition space, I’ve been working on small collaborative projects with other institutions to help extend our reach. A 1860s apple green silk dress ensemble laced with arsenic dye will soon go on exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto to replace the gown currently on display in the Fashion Victims exhibit there.

Apple green silk dress ensemble, ca. 1860s, FRC2014.07.406 A+B+C

Apple green silk dress ensemble, ca. 1860s, FRC2014.07.406 A+B+C

 

Testing for arsenic in the Physics Lab

Testing for arsenic in the Physics Lab

In spite of very limited hours of operation, the Fashion Research Centre was a busy place this past year. I look forward to welcoming more students to the FRC in the fall as the word gets out about the many treasures therein.