Teaser: Afrochic

I haven’t posted in a while and recently when I have shown my face I invariably get asked what I have been up to so here is a little a taste of the research that I will be presenting at a CAA2019 talk titled, “Afrochic: Race and the Emergence of American Fashion.”

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Above are some of the reading materials that I have been delving into and here is the abstract for my talk:

This paper considers the role of race in the formation of modern fashion design. Early in twentieth century, Women’s Wear editor, M. D. C. Crawford, and the Brooklyn Museum’s Curator of Ethnology, Stewart Culin, forged a productive alliance between the museum and fashion worlds to foster the development of American design. Simultaneously, colonial enterprises delivered increased information about Africa to Western audiences and its raw materials to the marketplace. As the fashion industry sought to contribute to the national effort to modernize lifestyle and taste, it capitalized on the precedent of the primitivist vogue that had sparked a fundamental reinvention of art and culture amongst the avant-garde. When Culin organized the exhibition Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo in 1923, it showcased not just the aesthetic merits of African expressive culture but its suitability as inspiration for modern fashion. The garment prototypes designed to accompany the show and the promotional rhetoric orchestrated by Crawford reveal that in addition to the appropriation of African design principles and styles, entrenched cultural myths about Africa and racial beliefs profoundly affected emergent fashion trends. Through the lens of fashion, where many would least expect it, this paper demonstrates that race played a significant role in the nation’s modernization at the beginning of the twentieth century. Reinventing American identity, aesthetics and mode of dress didn’t entail abandoning the nation’s traditional recourse to race. Arguably the triumph of the American Century hinged upon an Africanist presence lending its currency to the culture industry. 

I will leave you with a sample image that will feature in the presentation demonstrating how Kuba textiles were looked to for inspiration for modern American fashion.

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For more Afrochic news, you can visit my new page. Hope to see you at CAA!

 

 

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The hard copy of my essay arrived!

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The illustrations for my Brooklyn Rail essay, “The African Roots of Modern Fashion,” garnered me a beautiful two-page spread. Go Afrochic!

New essay published on Afrochic

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My piece, “The African Roots of Modern Fashion,” is a part of the lastest Brooklyn Rail Critics Page on art and fashion edited by Alexandra Schwartz. It provides some insight into my current research. Pleased to be in the company of Valerie Steele, Juliet Bellow, Rhonda Garelick, and Saya Woolfalk!

I offer up another Afrochic tidbit in celebration: Carl Van Vechten’s 1934 portrait of socialite Emilie Grigsby. The leopard couture gown she is wearing is now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum:

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Anna May Wong and Cross-Racial Masquerade

The Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong, regularly appeared in films in roles that were non-Asian but always racialized. I am currently obsessed with how often imagery linked her with blackness, as in this Paramount Studio photograph by Eugene Robert Richee:

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Afrochic Safari

Bergdorf & Goodman Fall 2015 Window Display

You can’t make this stuff up!

African Americans perform in Frank Buck’s Jungleland, a popular attraction at the 1939 World’s Fair. Paul Gillespie Collection of New York World’s Fair Materials, New-York Historical Society.
African Americans perform in Frank Buck’s Jungleland, a popular attraction at the 1939 World’s Fair. Paul Gillespie Collection of New York World’s Fair Materials, New-York Historical Society.

Desperately Seeking Photographer

I have been unable to identify the photographer of the following portrait of Anna May Wong. It was likely taken in 1934 when Wong was starring in a film tltled Chu Chin Chow, aka Ali Baba Nights.

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If anyone knows, please let me know using the comment field or email me at camara.holloway@icloud.com

Picturing Americans…Insights come from everywhere!

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in a convo, “Picturing Americans,” about Thomas Hart Benton as part of the opening festivities for “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

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Opening Reception (one of several!)

Thinking about Benton’s relationship to Hollywood and parallels with my research on Carl Van Vechten revealed an interesting thread via the director King Vidor. Benton went to Hollywood in 1937 on assignment for LIFE magazine. Van Vechten had gone a decade earlier in 1927 to write a series of articles for Vanity Fair. Both of them found Hollywoodland fascinating and at times repulsive.

Thomas Hart Benton by Carl Van Vechten
Thomas Hart Benton in 1935 by Carl Van Vechten

Van Vechten helped to catalyze the production of all-black cast musicals in the late 1920s. His infamous 1926 novel, Nigger Heaven, was considered for adaptation but this never came to pass. Talks with Vidor eventually led to his making the 1929 film, Hallelujah!, one of the first all-black cast feature films. Vidor admired Benton’s work and later purchased one of his paintings, The Negro and Alligator (1927) in the 1940s.

All three held complex views of African Americans that ranged from egregious stereotype to genuine admiration and empathy. All, of course, were the product of their times where the black vogue and jazz craze coexisted with the second heyday of the Klan, lynchings, and race riots. (Doesn’t sound much different from 2015, does it!?)

“American Epics” is a great exhibition and I had the chance to look at my research from a new angle. Win-win!

Chapter 1 is in the can!

Writer’s block was conquered and a decent draft of chapter 1 is complete. Summer is off to a good start.

This photograph Marlene Dietrich wearing her tuxedo from Morocco (1930) and this sketch by the Hollywood costume designer Travis Banton didn’t make it into the chapter so I thought I would share them here.

Viva deco dandies in tuxes!

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Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong'o

Afrochic now, done right: Lupita Nyong’o by Christian McDonald for Vogue magazine.