Will Venezuela’s Beauty Pageant Culture Disappear?

As the Venezuelan crisis continues, the nation’s citizens have struggled to find basic necessities like food and living supplies. It is a decline in a country that once was one of the richest economies in South America. Now there is mass starvation, hours-long queues, and increased crime rates. It has even resulted into the death of Reinaldo Herrera, the nephew of Venezuelan-American fashion designer Carolina Herrera.

Within the fashion world, Venezuela is often associated with beauty pageant culture that includes voluptuous hair, heavy makeup and revealing clothing. This trend also coincides with the societal obsession of plastic surgery, which has even influenced the working class. In order to obtain the looks of Venezuelan beauty queens, both pageant hopefuls and their admirers pay expensive bills for serious procedures to achieve the idealized look. These expensive and high maintenance trends present a conundrum in the nation’s current crisis. Will these beauty pageant trends maintain during, and after, the country’s struggle for freedom or will a less adorned, feminist-focused ideal take forth?

Although fashion and beauty are not the first worry in the country’s present climate, a look into the changing face of the “ideal” Venezuelan woman has potential to reveal the rising role of females and a potential change in their representation in the media.

Venezuelan Beauty Culture

When a Miss Venezuela wins an international beauty pageant, it is a source of nationalistic pride for the country. This notion may have originated from a less than glamorous locale: a beauty pageant held at a baseball game in 1940s Caracas. Two young women competed for the title, with one from a wealthy background and the other from a lower class. After a highly publicized campaign, the woman from the lower class won the pageant. In the 2016 film To Be a Missthis beauty contest is viewed as an underdog story that reflected the country’s growing pride. During the 1950s, Venezuela was a developing country that lead in oil production. It was headed by dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez, who initiated numerous public community programs based around Venezuelan identity. This was enhanced by the 1955 win of Susana Duijm, who was the first Miss Venezuela to win an international contest.

However, the Venezuelan beauty culture that is remembered today did not begin until the reign of Osmel Sousa, an actor turned president of the Miss Venezuela Organization. Despite the fact that Sousa has never participated as a beauty pageant contestant, his opinions and advice are highly valued and may appear extreme to those outside the field. He has worked with numerous Miss Venezuelas who have been crowned with an international title, with María Antonieta Cámpoli as his first in 1972. By the 1980s, Maritza Sayalero, Irene Saez, and Bárbara Palacios all won international titles under Sousa’s guidance.

Since beauty queens were, and are, a glorified example of both female perfection and political pride, it is natural for the public to want to replicate pageant contestants looks. Osmel Sousa often suggests for hopeful contestants to alter their looks through exercise and plastic surgery, which has become a part of many Miss Venezuela’s beauty regimes. A form of the trickle-down method, both pageant hopefuls and members of the general public must find the financial means to gain what they consider “perfection.” This can include surgeries on breasts, buttocks, noses, and even mesh on one’s tongue to reduce food intake. Plastic surgery has become so implemented in society that it has influenced the shape of store mannequins.

When discussing beauty pageants, there are many stereotypes that paint contestants as vain and ignorant. Although Venezuelan culture is “obsessed with beauty,” there are many examples of beauty queens who used their wins as a platform. Miss Universe 1981 winner Irene Saez entered into politics and served as a mayor and later governor. Veruska Ramirezwho won Miss Venezuela in 1997, was abandoned as a child, worked as a maid early in her life, and after her win, survived an abduction.  During the 2016 American Presidential Election, Miss Venezuela 1995 and Miss Universe 1996 winner Alicia Machado became a symbol of resistance against Donald Trump, who publicly shamed for her body.

As the country is falling deeper into crisis, women have spoken out against the communist regime through protests. One example is Venezuela’s “Wonder Woman” Caterina Ciarcelluti who has been photographed throwing stones in protest. Caterina appears beautiful yet mentally and physically strong, a combination of characteristics that challenge beauty pageant ideals. As these images continue to spread through international news, the public image of Venezuelan beauty may change or it may stick through the crisis and remain as a symbol of Venezuela’s national pride.

In Good Shape: The Work of Roberto Capucci (Part Two)

This post is a continuation of a discussion about the work of Roberto Capucci, and will explore the designer’s transition from high fashion to high art.

Adieu Paris

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Dress, 1972, silk georgette with bamboo (N.136) Photography by Claudia Primangeli/ L.e. via Philadelphia Museum of Art

By his return from Paris, Capucci’s creativity was at a low. “The happiest moment is the moment of creation,” the designer said in an interview. “But a creator isn’t free to design what he likes any more. It is very sad.” Capucci was still designing for celebrities at this time, which gave him an international presence. One of his most well-known celebrity wearers was the French-Italian actress Catherine Spaak, who was married to his brother Fabrizio Capucci from 1963 to 1971.

As soon as he reached Italy, he escaped on a trip to India that boosted his creativity. The Philadelphia Museum of Art states that this trip led him to “explore new colors and fabrics that resulted in a more poetic and fanciful aesthetic.”

After this trip, Capucci’s work moved from unusual silhouettes to unconventional materials, and by the 1970s, he was combining pebbles and straw with fine fabrics. This 1972 silk georgette gown housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art embraces Capucci’s change by combining the fine green fabric with bamboo.

In An Unconventional Fashion

Even today, clothing made from unconventional fabrics is not a mass accepted fashion and often falls under couture or fine art. By the early 1980s, Capucci was finding himself in this conundrum and had to choose between creating ready-to-wear, a growing field, or quit creating haute couture, which was not commercially viable. Capucci was Similar to his mindset during his leave of Paris, Capucci was unsatisfied with the fashion industry and needed a change. He chose to resign from the couture calendar and present his work once a year. This change was not just in venue, but in aesthetic. Capucci chose to forgo his fashion designer status for that of a textile artist.

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FW 17 Capucci via Capucci.eu

Capucci continued with his fine art work, but by the early Aughtes he returned to ready-to-wear with the line, Capucci. The fashion collection was designed both by himself and other designers, including Bernhard Willhel, Sybilla, Tara Subkoff, and Franca Maria Carraro for the shoeline. The line does not replicate the designer’s three-dimensional aesthetic, but blends geometric and colorful prints in wearable sportswear.

On Display
Cappuci’s later years have been filled with museum exhibits and fine art shows. He has been honored in a number of museum exhibits and was invited to show at the Forty-Sixth Venice Biennale. He created the Fondazione Roberto Capucci in 2005 with a museum filled with his works, and in 2007 the exhibition Ritorno alle origini (Return to Origins) at the Museo della Fondazione Roberto Capucci featured eight new sculptures of his work that was inspired by his beloved muse, nature. Another exhibit and publication was created by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2011 that followed his career from his beginnings in Italy to his journey into fine art.

For more on Roberto Capucci’s career and his work today, visit his website Capucci.eu.

The Fashionable Women of Pan Yuliang


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Self-Portrait (1936), Pan Yuliang via Artnet.com

Pan Yuliang (1895-1977) was a Chinese Modernist artist known for her female nudes. Although Yuliang’s work is often praised for its lack of clothing, there are a number of artworks and self-portraits that feature female fashions from the early to mid 20th century. These pieces of art in Yuliang’s work not only display clothing items, but also reveal two cultures that the artist identified with: one of birth and the other of refuge.

Early Life

Yuliang’s life began as an orphan who was sold into sex slavery at age 14. She was then “bought” by a general who made her his second wife. The man encouraged her to paint, which lead her to attend the prestigious Shanghai Art School, and later, fellowships in Paris and Rome.

Pan Yuliang found success after returning to China, but the nudity in her artwork caused scandal. By 1937, she left China after the invasion by the Japanese. She sought refuge in Paris and continued to work as an artist. She passed away in 1977 with a legacy as a renowned artist whose work continues to garner exhibitions and international auctions.

The Yuliang Beauty

Yuliang’s art was noted by art historian Phyllis Teo as a “flux of transformations where conflicting dichotomies of East and West, tradition and modernity, male chauvinism and emerging feminism co-existed.” Her clothed figures were feminine and were created in an idealized image: well-manicured young women in brightly colored qipao blouses and dresses with heavily applied makeup.

Beauty ideals before Yuliang’s departure from China went from Western-inspired Hollywood looks to the farm workers popularized by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Some Chinese women sought beauty and fashion inspiration from American culture, which was derived from the two countries’ relations during World War II. As Mao gained powered, the farmer became both the political and cultural ideal. Bare face, tan skin, and the utilitarian Zhongshan suit became the new way of adornment for Chinese women, which was meant to deconstruct notions of class, gender, and Western influence.

Yuliang’s Women

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Girl Playing Violin, Pan Yuliang via Artnet.com

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Jeune Femme au Kimono, Pan Yuliang via Artnet.com

Because of her artwork, previous travels, and her ultimate leave of China, it appears Yuliang embrace components of the pre-Revolution Chinese cultural wares, but also that of Western. The pieces analyzed above are women of Chinese origin with pale skin and black hair in either cultural Chinese or Western dress.

In Girl Playing Violin (no date), the seated young woman looks upward with a closed smile while holding a violin. The piece features her with a chin-length hairstyle and lightly applied makeup. She is wearing a Western billowy white blouse and black ensemble that appears as either a black jumper or sleeveless dress.

Jeune Femme au Kimono (no date) also portrays the image of a seated young woman looking off frame, but she is adorned in Eastern fashions. The woman is wearing a black, embroidered qipao jacket over a sea green silver flecked dress. Her hair is curled and pinned with heavily rouged cheeks and lips, over-plucked eyebrows, and painted red nails.

Yuliang’s Self-Portraits


Self-Portrait Dressed in Black (1940), Pan Yuliang via Sothebys.com 

©Mingshen Daily


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Window Self-Portrait, Pan Yuliang via Artnet.com

Similar to the figures she created in her artwork, Yuliang also presented an international wardrobe of both Eastern and Western pieces in her self-portraits. Her Self-Portrait Dressed in Black (1940) features the artist in a black qipao gown with dragon detail along the shoulders and collar. She styled her hair in a half pinned, bisected style and makeup that evokes a formal or special occasion.

Yuliang’s Window Self-Portrait (no date) contrasts the previous piece with a short sleeved red day dress with a contrasting pointed collar. She accessorized the look with red pearl necklace and hair styled in victory rolls. The outfit appears in a 1940s Western style, which corresponds with her refuge to France in the late 1930s.

Since there is a lack of information concerning both her self-portraits and her own work, there is no way to make an assumption that she chose to forgo Eastern dress after her asylum to France or vice versa. Or that she opposed the Cultural Revolution dress code by adorning her figures in traditional Chinese and Western clothing. What can be seen is that Yuliang and her women appear as stylish figures who have power and confidence, no matter the origin of their dress.



An Ao Dai and A Jumpsuit: The Fashions of Dang Tuyet Mai

The third and final subject of Vietnamese First Ladies fashion, Đặng Tuyết Mai was not the wife of a Vietnamese president, but that of a Prime Minister, and later, Vice President. A stylish figure often photographed during the Vietnam War, Mai’s clothing choices mirrored the style of another political wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Both chose clean lines in stylish late 1960s and early 1970s silhouettes that complimented their youthful, but confident, beauty.

Similar to Jacqueline’s departure from politics after the death of her husband, American President John F. Kennedy, Đặng Tuyết Mai ended her role after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 by leaving her home country for the United States. Although she divorced her husband and moved back to Vietnam years later, both she and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were women who lived under the history of their respective spouses and by their own accord, fashion sense.

Early Life

Đặng Tuyết Mai’s story often begins with her career as a young airline stewardess turned politician wife, but her life in Vietnam started much earlier. She was born in 1942 to an academic family in Bac Ninh, and later, Hanoi. In the 1950s, she became one of the first air hostesses of Air Vietnam Airlines. A stewardess wore an outfit that honored Vietnam’s heritage with a reference to class, by way of an Ao Dai, matching cap, and high heels.

In 1964, she married then Vietnam Air Force Chief of Staff Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, a man known for his penchant for flash. In 1965, the couple was photographed together wearing military jumpsuits, which was a sign of solidarity with military troops as Prime Minister and wife. Even wearing the same outfit as her husband, Đặng Tuyết Mai wore her jumpsuit with a stylish flair by way of a chin-length bob, oversized-square eyeglasses, and a leather handbag.

Fashion Sense

During her time as the Prime Minister’s wife, Đặng Tuyết Mai was photographed wearing both Western and Vietnamese fashions to events. When in Western attire, she chose elegant eveningwear ensembles, like cap sleeved ball gowns accented with a hand fan or a sleeveless dress with panels over black trousers. For daywear, she was photographed wearing sophisticated French ensembles that embraced texture and color.


Image via Life by way of Elle Vietnam

She also wore Aio Dais, which connected her sense of style to national pride. Her ensembles included a beige, pastel floral silk gown and a pink and white piece with a strand of pearls. No matter her dress origin, she always chose ladylike accessories like pearls and a pocketbook. Her hair was styled in some sweeping style, whether in a bob or bouffant style, and she lined her eyes in thick, pointed eyeliner with rose petal lipstick.

Mai’s style changed years later with a more expensive and daring flair. She showed more skin in tight fitting dresses, displayed brightly colored jewels, and kept her penchant for a well-coiffed face and hair. Before her death in 2016, she was photographed looking ageless in a black bikini and gold accessories.

Vietnam today is known for their growing textile industry, but there’s a fascinating history of style influencers that should not be forgotten. For more on Vietnamese fashion, visit these articles of Madame Nhu and Nam Phuong.

In Good Shape: The Work of Roberto Capucci (Part One)

It’s hard for a fashion designer to get the fame or recognition when you have peers like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. But for Italian fashion designer Roberto Capucci, recognition plays a minor role to creating sculptural textile art for over sixty plus years.

The Boy Wonder of Couture

Capucci’s design career began in 1950, only twenty years after his 1930 birth in Rome. According to Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion (2011), his first client was Marcella de Marchis Rossellini, the then wife of Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. From the indication of this famous clientele, it’s no surprise that the young designer gained the attention of Italian fashion promoter Giovanni Battista Giorgini, the man who organized Italy’s first “high fashion” show. Capucci was granted the chance to present a collection for American buyers, which was a part of a larger fashion show that featured more seasoned designers.

As Capucci’s work progressed in the 1950s, it amazed the fashion press. His work was a combination of feminine, “New Look” ball gowns and separates with geographic elements. The New York Times called him the “Boy Wonder of Couture” in 1951, and later in 1952 wrote, “ 21-year-old vest-pocket genius, steals the spotlight from his elders today as the fourth Italian high fashion show opens in Florence.” A year after his debut, the designer was featured for the first time in the September issue of Vogue. His clothing drew the attention of not only those in fashion, but also from style icons like Gloria Swanson and Marilyn Monroe.


Image: Claudia Primangeli/L.e.C. Service via Philadelphia Museum of Art

However, he often cited nature as his muse than Hollywood stars. His most famous example is the 1956 Nove gonne (Nine dresses) gown. This dress consists of nine skirts cut to look like concentric rings that are formed when a pebble skips across water. The effect was created by tiers that are high in the front and long in the back. The red silk taffeta dress is balanced with a square neckline and knee-length sheath with a red matching belt at the waist. This gown made such an impact that it was featured in an American advertisement for General Motors.

From Paris to Rome


Image: Stella Kimbrough via TheArtBlog.org

Although Capucci’s reviews were glowing, the designer decided to move his business to Paris in 1962. His first collection Linea Pura, was according to Philadelphia Museum of Art, full of color with clean silhouettes. Capucci’s aesthetic began to embrace more unconventional materials and shapes, as seen with his glow in the dark beaded gowns. These gowns embraced the boxy, tubular styles of 1965, but when in the dark, glowed through ornate beading.

Capucci found the fashion industry as a hinder to his creativity, due to the pressing need to meet the market’s needs. By 1968 he returned to Rome, where he would find the opportunity to turn his work into art.

In the next post on Roberto Capucci, his transition from high fashion to high art will be discussed.

The Nhu Look: The Fashions of Madame Nhu

The next woman in the Vietnamese First Lady series blended fashion and power like no other. Madame Nhu was known for her quick, and at times harmful mouth, alongside her stunning beauty. She was a unique political figure of the Vietnam War for challenged anything that got in her way.

The Woman of Many Names

Although she was born Trần Lệ Xuân, Madame Nhu was a woman known under many names. She was also called “Tiger Lady” and “Dragon Lady,” which the latter was based on a racist Asian character from the U.S. cartoon, “Terry and the Pirates.” This name was due to her blunt personality and cutting remarks, but also her glamorous appearance.

Nhu was the de-facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963, which was the early years of the Vietnam War. She was both a feminist who supported women’s rights, but also a fierce Christian who promoted laws that restricted females. She was protective of her people, but then made scathing statements about Vietnamese Buddhist monks who self-immolated in protest.

The Nhu Life

Nhu was born in 1924 to a wealthy Buddhist family in Vietnam who descended from royalty. Her life consisted of rare privilege during the 1920s and 1930s, where she took French and ballet lessons and was assisted by several servants.

As a teen, she rebelled against her controlling family by refusing an arranged marriage and dropping out of a prestigious school.  She married politician and archivist Ngô Đình Nhu in 1943, who was her mother’s friend and fifteen years her senior. In order to marry, the young bride converted to her husband’s Roman Catholicism and changed her name to Madame Nhu, which went against Vietnamese tradition.

Early in the couple’s marriage, Vietnam fell to Communist power. Nhu and her child were captured and held against their will. They faced harsh and restrictive conditions, but she was allowed one coat to wear, which according to Nhu, was “a very fashionable wasp-waisted number from Paris.”

The Nhu Law

In 1955 Nhu’s brother-in-law Ngô Đình Diệm became the first president of the Republic of Vietnam. Since Diệm was unmarried, Nhu became the de-facto first lady. As a public figure, she was not afraid to voice her opinion of American involvement in the Vietnam War or against her critics.

Nhu’s fierce persona often overshadowed the change she initiated in Vietnam. She developed a female militia, and proposed the Family Law in 1958 that banned polygamy, gave women the right to joint property ownership, and made divorce difficult to attain. Although the latter would be seen against women’s rights in Western eyes, divorce at that time in Vietnam stigmatized women and could ruin their future.

However, Nhu’s Roman Catholic views drove her to promote laws that shamed women. She attempted to outlaw padded brassieres, abortion, and called the popular dance “the Twist” as an unhealthy activity.

The Nhu Look

Like many public figures, Madame Nhu had a signature uniform. She wore a modified ao dai (Vietnamese national dress) that was fitted at the bodice with necklines that included boatneck and Mandarin collars. Alike her statements, her clothing was considered controversial for its focus on the female form.

Nhu complimented her look with other 1950s trends, including a beehive bouffant, winged eyeliner, and feminine accents like a purse in snakeskin or pearl jewelry. Apart of why she was named the “Dragon Lady” moniker, was due to her pointed nails, which are referred today as stiletto nails. Her ultra-feminine look only strengthened her fierce persona, which was a rarity for any First Lady during the mid-twentieth century.

Historical Fashion Writing: Syria Through The Vogue Lens

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“Match Me Such Marvel” American Vogue (December 1, 1965). Photographed by Henry Clarke. Copyright Condé Nast Publications.

Fashion journalism during times of war can reveal more than just pretty outfits. Take for example the photojournalism of Lee Miller during World War II. Serving as a war correspondent for British Vogue, the former model’s work blended the horrors of Nazi-ruled Europe with reporting on women’s lives. She even had the chance to bath in Hitler’s bathtub, which resulted into one of her most iconic photographs.

In more recent times, the Syrian Civil War has become a widely discussed topic in the fashion industry, ranging from where to donate to the decline of the country’s iconic textile industry. American Vogue even had a blunder of an article that praised Asthma al-Assad as “glamorous, young, and very chic–the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.”

Syria Through The Vreeland Lens


“Match Me Such Marvel” American Vogue (December 1, 1965). Photographed by Henry Clarke. Copyright Condé Nast Publications.

Although reporting on the Syrian Civil War is now common, there have been two significant moments in Vogue’s history where the publication blended Western fashion with Syrian architecture, art, and ways of life. The first occurred during the reign of Diana Vreeland, who as American Vogue’s editor-in-chief from 1962 to 1971 sent her staff to shoot editorials overseas. “You’d take a couple of models, the photographer Henry Clarke, his English assistant Nelson and a hairdresser (usually Olivier a French coiffeur from Alexandre in Paris) and off we went for say three to four weeks to Syria and Jordan,” explained Paris editor of American Vogue Susan Train of the 1965 excursions.

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“Match Me Such Marvel” American Vogue (December 1, 1965). Photographed by Henry Clarke. Copyright Condé Nast Publications.

Models Brigitte Bauer and Editha Dussler were assigned to pose in front of Roman columns in Palmyra wearing bright white dresses with angular cutouts and sweeping necklines with three-dimensional hairstyles in various conical shapes sitting atop their heads. They were adorned with over-sized earrings, rings, and cuffs, who appeared like suntanned goddesses cutting a figure in a Roman scene. Fifty years later, ISIS bombings have caused some of the ruins to collapse.

Following the Road 


“The Road To Damascus” Vogue UK (May 2009). Photographed by Tom Craig. Copyright Condé Nast Publications.

Vogue UK revisited Syria in a May 2009 editorial starring supermodel Stella Tennant titled, “The Road to Damascus.” The editorial featured Tennant in gleaming suits and dresses while posing with locals near cultural icons like the Umayyad Mosque. The stunning editorial was shot two years before the start of the country’s civil war, and when compared to the photographs of the country now, displays how quick it all has changed.

For more information on how to help the people of Aleppo, visit Doctors Without Borders and The White Helmets.

Nam Phuong, The Woman Who Wore Silver Trousers To Meet The Pope


Image via Manhai (Flickr)

Chronicling the personal style of First Ladies has become common news fodder as of late. Readers from The New York Times to Cosmopolitan can page through articles discussing the public embracement of Michelle Obama’s style, the tailored looks of Canadian Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, or the refusal of service by fashion designers to the soon-to-be American First Lady, Melania Trump.

There has been a long history of documenting the fashions of First Ladies. An example can be seen with the country of Vietnam. Three Vietnamese First Ladies came from diverse backgrounds with different tastes in fashion. These three women held their role as a wife of a political figurehead either before, during, or after the Vietnam War who all used fashion to make a statement. Each will be discussed in a three-part series.

The first post will discuss the life and fashion influence of Nam Phương, the last empress of Vietnam.

From a French Convent to An Empire

Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan was born in the French colony Cochinchina, which is located in a southern portion of modern day Vietnam. Lan grew up in a wealthy Roman Catholic family and was educated overseas in France (1). In 1934, she married Emperor Bảo Đai after ending her schooling in a French convent. According to the 1934 The New York Times article “Will Renounce Faith To Wed An Emperor,” this union required her to renounce her faith for her husband’s Buddhism. This pleased Vietnam’s general public, but was at the dismay of the Vatican.  The marriage also required her to change her name to Nam Phương, which translates to “Direction of South.”

During the four days of the marriage ceremony, Phương was described by Time Magazine (2) in, “…A great brocaded Annamite gown, she stepped into an automobile and was driven to the Emperor’s Palace, followed by the Imperial princesses and the blue-turbaned wives of the mandarins…On the fourth day a battalion of mandarins led in musicians and the bearers of the royal insignia. The new Queen, her hair elaborately wound about a tiara encrusted with precious stones…”

Leaving the Emperor 


Image via Manhai (Flickr)

When looking at her life, it appears Phoung may have had a strained marriage with her husband. What are typical marital problems may have been complicated with his multiple marriages or his political alliance with the Japanese during World War II. By 1947, the Communist takeover of Vietnam caused Phương to take her children to a family home in France that was bought by her maternal grandmother. Phương then separated from her husband and continued to live in France until she passed away in 1963 (3).

The Empress Goes to Europe 

Aside from her role as wife to the last Emperor of Vietnam, Nam Phương was a fashion influencer who wore both traditional Vietnamese clothing and Western wear. During her first trip to Europe in 1939, the Empress’ outfits in Paris were noted by The New York Times in the 1939 article, “By Wireless From Paris.” The article explains how her apparel inspired others by stating, “Already some élégantes are adopting trousers and embroidered tunics for evenings; pagoda silhouettes, revers or sleeve forms are also in evidence.”

In the “Footnotes” of the July 23, 1939 edition of The New York Times, Phương was noted for breaking tradition when meeting Pope Pius XII at the Vatican. She wore a “gold, dragon-embroidered tunic, red scarf and gold hat” with a pair of silver trousers, instead of the all-black, conservative gown and veil.

Orientalism in Fashion 


Image via Manhai (Flickr)

During the time Nam Phương visited Europe, fashion was embracing “exotic” or “orientalist” designs. Orientalism in design and fashion traces to an Eastern idealization created through the West when trade between the two hemispheres introduced silk textiles and new styles of clothing like kimonos and shawls. This interest in Eastern aesthetics was not based in understanding the cultures of Japan, Algeria, or China, rather was created around a fabrication imagined by the West.

Popular trends in the 1930s included silk embroidered kimonos that inspired highly ornate coats, capes, high-neck keyhole gowns and sleepwear that was considered a part of a stylish wardrobe. Phương’s style moments noted by The New York Times highlights the fantasy ideal of Orientalism, but also gives credit to an Asian woman, a demographic that was rarely discussed in fashion publications.

The Life of Nam Phương



Image via Manhai (Flickr)

Phương was an educated woman who is still remembered for her beauty and fashion sense, but she was also a woman who challenged religious conventions and used her wealth to escape an unhappy marriage. Politics aside, Nam Phương was one fascinating, and beautifully dressed, woman.



  1. “Annam Ruler to Wed Commoner 20 March; Daughter of Wealthy Cochin-China Family Will Be Bride of Europeanized Emperor”, The New York Times, 9 March 1934, page 21.
  2. “Wedding and Thanks”, Time, 2 April 1934.
  3. “Nam Phuong, Wife of Ex-Annam Ruler”, The New York Times, 17 September 1963.

Historical Fashion Writing: Vogue Deutschland 1928-1929

All images available on Lumas.com; © Copyright 2003-2016 Avenso GmbH

Shortly before the economic depression and the rise of the fascist Nazi Party impacted Germany, Vogue Deutschland was on the newsstands from 1928 to 1929. These short two years produced Bauhaus-inspired covers with fashion content for the upper-class German woman. The following is a description of the publication that was featured in the Vogue (US) April 27, 1929 article, “When Traveling Abroad” :

German Vogue, established in April, 1928, in response to an overwhelming demand from German women, will act as a guide to the increasing number of Americans who travel in Middle Europe.

Since Germany derives its fashions from Paris, the same modes appear simultaneously in French and German Vogue. Its editorial features, however, are essentially German…the news of German society, music, art and literature…and particularly articles on modern decoration.”




All images available on Lumas.com; © Copyright 2003-2016 Avenso GmbH

The description also notes that the publication was bi-weekly and sold in Germany, Austria, and other German speaking countries. After it’s closing in 1929, Vogue Deutschland appeared back on the market in 1979, which was in the midst of a two-state division. The covers of the latter Vogue Deutschland have stuck to the standard cover model variation and survived during a state reunification. Although the latter version exudes fashion, the earlier Bauhaus-inspired editions are equally inspiring.



Advertisement. (1929, Apr 27). Vogue, 73, 36. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.ohiou.edu/docview/879183648?accountid=12954




Zitkala-sa and the Politics of Native American Dress



Photography by Joseph T. Keiley (1901)

For months now, the protests of the Dakota Pipeline near Cannonball, North Dakota have swept both US and International news. Occurring near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, groups like the Standing Rock Sioux, other Native American communities, and their allies have faced cold weather and police aggression to protest the incoming Dakota Pipeline.

The Sioux, an umbrella term for Native groups like the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, have a deep history with American oppression and tension. The most recent incident has reminded the US public of past events, like the Wounded Knee Massacre, which resulted into mass killings. It also recalls the colonization of the Native Peoples, a phenomenon that occurred during the early years of the country’s formation. One aspect of this colonization was the way a Native American dressed and adorned themselves, which was seen as a threat.

The Politics of Hair

Unlike today where non-Natives want to dress like them, during the United State’s migration to the West, Native people were encouraged to conform and adopt Western clothing. A popular method for colonization were boarding schools, where the motto was, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This was stated by the first founder of the boarding schools, Army officer Richard Pratt who based his institution’s educational program on an Indian prison.

By targeting Native youth, these schools forced children to speak English, move away from family, and adopt a Western way of life. This included cutting the children’s long hair and prohibiting them from wearing traditional clothing, which are both symbols of Native identity.

This was meant to not only change the physical image of the children, but also their spirit. They faced physical and mental abuse, alongside being ashamed of their cultural heritage. One notable experience is that of Zitkala-sa, a Yankton Dakota woman.

As a young girl, Zitkala-sa was sent to the White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana. “I was a wild little girl of seven. Loosely clad in a slip of brown buckskin, and light-footed with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet,” Zitkala-sa recalled in her book, American Indian Stories. “I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer. These were my mother’s pride, – my wild freedom and overflowing spirits.” Early in her time at the school, she witnessed the assimilation and experience it first hand. “I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day I was taken from my mother I had suffered extreme indignities.”

The Politics of Zitkala-sa


Photographed by Gertrude Käsebier (1898)


Photographed by Gertrude Käsebier (1898)


As she grew older, she became a public figure for her writing and advocacy work. She also was photographed on numerous occasions, with her wearing both Dakota and Western clothing. In a series of photographs by American photographer Gertrude Käsebier, she is captured wearing her long hair loose in a Western white long sleeved, puff shouldered dress. In another, she is wearing loose layers with accessories, coats, and embroidered pieces. This combination of two different cultures reflected her ethnic identity. Zitkala-sa identified as a Yankton woman from Dakota territory, but was also half White through her father side. In a time where the divisions between Natives and White Americans were so prominent, Zitkala-sa wasn’t afraid to address the taboo.

Often referenced today for her natural beauty, Zitkala-sa was a female voice who created her own opportunities. Aside from writing, she also collaborated with a South Dakota music teacher to create the operetta, The Sun Dance Opera. The piece combined a love drama with Plains Indian rituals.

In 1926, she co-founded the National Council of American Indians, an organization that lobbied for Native American rights. Zitkala-sa passed away in 1938, but her life’s work has been remembered. She was named a 2010 honoree of Women’s History Month by the National Women’s History Project and is cited as, “The first American Indian woman to write her own story without the aid of an editor, interpreter or ethnographer.”

For more information on the current situation at Sitting Rock, visit Standingrock.org.