From November 17 to the 20th, Costume Colloquium will be hosting “Restraint and Excess in Fashion and Dress.” The event explores the notion of excess and restriction in fashion by discussing topics that embrace the more elaborate side of fashion, like the grand styles of court dress, alongside the restrictive; think military uniforms or religious dress.
Although certain styles of clothing are either elaborate or restrictive, there are many that fit in between. Take for example the designs of the late Alexander McQueen, who loved to distort the female body, but always with ornate touches.
Sometimes this fashionable contradiction appears unexpectedly, as seen with the wardrobe of French artist Louise Bourgeois.
A Banquet/A Fashion, Show of Body Parts…With Costumes
The personal style and work of artist Louise Bourgeois reflected this concept late in her life. The most famous example is seen in her 1978 performance piece A Banquet/A Fashion, Show of Body Parts, which was centered on restrictive and tubular costumes with three dimensional additions. Bourgeois held a special place for textile art within her work, which she traced to her childhood in her family’s tapestry restoration workshop. “Clothing is…an exercise of memory…,” Bourgeois is quoted by MoMA.org. “It makes me explore the past…how did I feel when I wore that…”
Alike her art, Bourgeois’ personal style during her later years embraced a sensational volume that was balanced with restrictive shapes and silhouettes. Bourgeois preferred a low-key persona and rarely sought attention. When posing for a photograph for Robert Mapplethorpe, the artist decided to distract from herself with an oversized black fur coat and famously, her art piece, Fillette. In 2009, the artist was captured by photographer Alex Van Gelder wearing an oversized fur coat with a tight, form fitting beanie and plain black smock.
The Stylish Impact of Louise Bourgeois
“She had an incredible profile; when someone has a natural beauty, it’s a gift, and to have a certain sense of style on top of that,” bemused Bourgeois’ former assistant Jerry Gorovoy to Simone Rocha in the article, Simone Rocha On Louise Bourgeois. “It’s definitely psychological, the relationship with the clothes, for the creator and the wearer.”
Bourgeois’ textile work has influenced more than just the fine art world. Womenswear fashion designer Simone Rocha sourced the artist’s 1978 performance piece for her Autumn/Winter 2015 show. Rocha took direct reference from Bourgeois’ restraint yet elaborate costumes, by way of having models walk down the runway in distorted female figure silhouettes, three-dimensional additions, and even a phallus or two. Alike Bourgeois’ own fashion sense, Rocha’s collection paired eye-catching touches with restrictive long sleeves, high necks, one-armed capes, and models’ hair was wrapped around their necks.
Rocha also evoked Bourgeois’ eye for tapestry and harmonious sewing. The heavy, thick hand of Rocha’s textiles constricted movement and wrapped around the body, all while displaying ornate visual patterns.
“The most profound thing she ever said was, “Clothes are about what you want to hide,” Rocha said about Bourgeois to Jerry Gorovoy. Although the artist’s goal was to hide, her clothing revealed much more.