Valerie Steele

  • passages August 06, 2014

    Anne Hollander (1930–2014)

    ANNE HOLLANDER was an independent scholar and critic who transformed the way we look at art and fashion. Her first book, Seeing Through Clothes (1978), was a highly original—and brilliantly titled—exploration of the relationship between body and clothes through centuries of art history. At a time when fashion was widely dismissed as frivolous and irrational, Hollander argued that changing styles of dress, like paintings and sculpture, were “connected links in a creative tradition of image-making.” She demonstrated that even the way we perceive and represent the nude is influenced by the way

  • Richard Martin

    BEFORE RICHARD MARTIN, exhibitions devoted to fashion tended to be characterized by dull antiquarianism or superficial glitz. By treating the way we dress as a living art, Richard changed everything. In scores of exhibitions and books and more than 100 scholarly articles, he examined fashion through the lens of contemporary art. It was not merely that he traced connections between clothing styles and art movements, still less that he idolized designers as creative “geniuses”; rather, he asked the kinds of serious questions of fashion that had seldom been applied to the supposedly frivolous

  • “Le Théâtre de la Mode”

    WHEN I WAS A GRADUATE STUDENT AT YALE, a professor asked me about the subject of my dissertation.

    “It’s about fashion,” I said.

    “That’s interesting,” he replied. “Italian or German?” Was he talking about Armani? Did he consider Karl Lagerfeld a German designer? Finally the light dawned.

    “Not fascism,” I said. “Fashion. As in Paris.”

    “Oh.” Without another word, he turned and walked away. Clearly, fashion was not a serious subject.

    To juxtapose fascism and fashion might seem doubly frivolous, but “Le Théâtre de la Mode” (The theater of fashion), a recent exhibition at the Costume Institute of the

  • Retro Fashion

    BECAUSE MOST FASHION JOURNALISTS subscribe to the Hegelian philosophy that “whatever is, is right,” they take an understandably upbeat view of retro fashion, which they tend to describe in terms of inspiration and zeitgeist. If designers “look to the past . . . it’s not because they have all been looking at the same back issues of fashion magazines,” wrote Caroline Milbank in a recent issue of Vogue. “It’s because a feeling from the past is in the air.”

    No doubt this is true, at least in a metaphoric sense. But, like all zeitgeist explanations, it leaves unresolved the question of why a certain