Ballgowns, Natsuke Miniatures and an International Dinner

Yesterday, I attended the “British Glamour Since 1950” ball gown exhibit.  This Catherine Walker gown, worn by Princess Diana was in the exhibit.  Elizabeth and David Emmanuel, designers of Princess Diana’s wedding dress, had a gown on display.  It was worn by Elizabeth Hurley in the 1999 Estee Lauder advertisement.

Do you remember the gown that Sandra Bullock wore to the 2011 Golden Globes?  It was designed by Jenny Packham and was on display, too.   Stella McCartney designed the gown that Annette Bening wore to the New York Film Critic award.  It was a black jumpsuit with a matching jacket.  The legs on the jumpsuit were so full, that the outfit appeared to be a gown.

Then there were other gowns that were made of a new variety of material. One was of aluminum foil strips, another was of leather, plastic and aluminum and yet another, was of latex.  The latex gown was designed by Atsuko Kudo who said that she would like to design a tasteful dress for the queen out of latex.  Can’t you see the Queen of England in a latex dress?  I doubt if it will ever happen!

After this exhibit, I continued looking at the fashion exhibit over the years.  There were clothes from the early 1700s up to now.  One thing I found interesting was before fashion magazines, the dressmaker would create a dress of the current design for a doll to show women the latest fashion trend.  This doll is from 1830 and her outfit is the latest fashion for 1831.

I really enjoyed the section on the fashions of the 1960s!  That was the era that I grew up in!! I even think I had a maxi-dress similar to the one on exhibit here!  The long sleeved maroon dress, to the left of the maxi dress, is by Mary Quant, who designed the mini-skirt.  The black and white dress behind Quant’s dress was a paper dress.  Does anyone else remember the paper dress?  Did you have one, I didn’t but I remember them!

Today I attended a lunchtime lecture on Natsuke (nat-ski), the miniature toggle used by men in the 18th century.  I had never heard of it but enjoyed learning something new.  The lecture was given by Julia Hutt who is a curator at the V&Amuseum.  She has written a book on this art form.

Originally, the natsuke was functional and worn by men in Japan.  In the 1700s, men wore kimonos which didn’t have pockets so they had no place to carry items.  These toggles were developed to attach to the obi (the belt) of the kimono and from the netsuke, they would hang a inro (a small container).  This is an example of the netsuke, ojime (the little bead that held the inro in place and kept it closed) and finally, the inro or the small container.

The toggle would attach to the obi and the string would be put behind the obi and the inro would hang from the string.  The ojime kept the inro in place and kept it closed.

During the Edo period (1603-1860), men’s kimonos were very somber colors. Wearing the netsuke, ojime and inro were a way of expressing himself.  Often, the three items were connected by a theme, nature, Japanese gods or daily activities.  For example, the speaker showed an inro in the shape of a cicada and the netsuke was in the shape of the egg (nymph), which looks like a miniture cicada.

The inro could designed to have different compartments and would hold items like seals, seal paste, tobacco or medicine.  As you can see, they were considerably small and not much could be fit in them.

It became fashionable for well-to-do men to have a collection of netsuke and inros.  It was not uncommon for people to ask about the netsuke and inro of the day.  Heaven forbid the man wore the same one two days in a row!  These were items to be handled and admired.  It was not unusual when the admirer would touch and handle the netsuke and inro….it was welcomed.  It was, also, common for the man to frequently look at his collection of netsuke and admire them.

Netsukes initially started out as a ring that was attached to the obi.  Eventually, it became a button that was carved with a design and finally, the three dimensional figure evolved, as you can see from the examples in the pictures.

Many people believed that the origin of the netsuke originated in China.  However, the speaker questions this and supported her argument with various items.  She believed that the concept of a toggle originated in Europe and that Japanese saw this idea when trading in the East Indies with Europeans.  She showed a painting by the artist Lorenzo Lotto, an Italian painter who lived in 1480 until 1556.  Of course, I can’t find a copy of the picture she used as an example but the women in the picture had a toggle attached to a small container on her belt.  Lotto started his art career in 1503, after leaving Venice where he was an apprentice, well before the popularity of the netsuke in Japan.  Ms Hutt also had examples of small, European, leather containers from the 14th century.  Again, well before the Edo period in Japan.  So, maybe her theory is right.

After the lecture, I made my way to the exhibit in the V&A of the netsukes and inros.  From there, I went back to the snuff box collection to get a couple of pictures so show you what they are like and that they were rather large.  The snuff boxes I have seen were always very small.  Maybe someday, I will research them, but not today as I want to finish this entry.

This is just a small part of the display but it gives you an idea of this extensive collection.  In the drawers below the display case are more snuff boxes which can be viewed.

This gives you the idea of how elaborately decorated some of these snuff boxes were decorated!  This had precious gems as well as diamonds in a floral design.  Some of the snuff boxes were in various shapes.  One that was on display was of an egg.

This is an example of less decorated snuff boxes.  Still, they are beautiful.  It was a lovely collection donated by Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert.  Arthur Bernstein was born, in 1913, in England where his Polish parents immigrated to in 1893.  In 1936, he married Rosalinde Gilbert, a dress designer.  He took her surname to become Arthur Gilbert.  Together, they built a very successful evening gown business.  By the age of 36, Sir Gilbert had made enough money to retire and decided to immigrate to California, following the footsteps of other relatives.

He enjoyed California but was soon bored and started a very successful real estate development business.  The Gilberts were very charitable people and avid collectors of silver items, snuff boxes, miniatures and mosaics.  There collection was on loan for several years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  In 1996, they donated their collection to England where it is on display today at the Victoria and Albert museum.  In 1999, Gilbert was knighted.  He died in 2001, Rosalinde predeceased him in 1995.

This table is an example of part of the mosaic collection that the Gilbert’s acquired.  It is made from glass and is a very intricate design.

 This picture is a close up of the table.  You can see how small the pieces of glass are.  You can only imagine the time, talent and patience to create this work of art.

This table is an example of pietre dure mosaic.  The black is Belgium marble and the still life design is made from various colored stones, particularly marble.  The stones are cut in thin pieces using a bow saw.  The design is traced and cut out.  The pattern is put on the colored stone and again, cut with a bow saw. These pieces are filed so they will fit properly.

The pattern is once again put on the large piece of black marble and is carved with a bow saw.  So, you have open pieces on the marble where the colored pieces will fit in. They are placed, much like a jigsaw puzzel and held in place with a glue like substance.  This covers the whole piece of work and after it dries, it is buffed off and polished.  Pretty amazing, no?  (The blue streak in the upper left-hand corner is a light reflection, sorry!)

I believe this picture of the winter scene is a pietre dure mosaic as well and the material used was white/grey marble, onyx, gabbro and albarese limestone.  It is titled “Return to Market” (1928) and it was done by the artist Mario Montelatici (1894-1974).

There is so much to see at the V&A….I could easily go there everyday and still don’t think by February, I will have seen it all!  As I was leaving the V&A, there was an artist creating this sidewalk art outside of the museum!  I give him credit for creating something to earn tips and not just asking for a handout!

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