0000 Sailor Chic: Fashion's Love Affair with the Sea Exhibit NMM London - the Fashion Spot
 
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29-07-2007
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0000 Sailor Chic: Fashion's Love Affair with the Sea Exhibit NMM London
Official exhibition website

iht.com


Quote:
London exhibit charts a history of sailor chic


The National Maritime Museum.


By Suzy Menkes

Published: July 23, 2007

GREENWICH, England: He stands four square to the ocean and the big blue sky: hat cocked above sailor collar, buttons bold on wide-legged pants.

Is it Admiral Horatio Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, whose swashbuckling hat survived when he fell? No, it's the pint-size outfit created for a 4-year-old prince ó who launched nautical style for generations of long-suffering little boys.

The wave of seafaring fashion, from Coco Chanel's sun-kissed, seashore elegance to Jean Paul Gaultier's subversive gay pride, is the subject of "Sailor Chic ó Fashion's Love Affair with the Sea," which opens on Wednesday at London's National Maritime Museum.

It starts with the trim cotton sailor suit that Queen Victoria ordered in 1856 for her son, the future King Edward VII, immortalized in a sugar-sweet portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter ó and at a more kitsch cultural level in the Minton china plates and jugs that sold this idea of kiddy sailor style to the people.

Even then, there was something ham about the "little boy blue." Victoria's diary entry reads: "Bertie put on his sailor's dress, which was beautifully made by the man on board who makes for our sailors. When he appeared, the officers and sailors who were all assembled on deck to see him, cheered, and seemed delighted."

A century on, merry movie stars were camping it up on posters for postwar movies such as "Anchors Away" and "South Pacific." They reinforced earlier ideas that sailor style was saucy and cheeky. Costume drawings for the musical duo Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta "HMS Pinafore" in 1878 prove that it didn't take long to link "nautical" with "naughty."

But for all the show's breezy energy, Amy Miller, the exhibition's curator, has looked under the frothy surf to examine the swell of change that the sailor image has represented over 150 years. Working with Kristian Martin, the exhibition curator at the National Maritime Museum, Miller has identified the cultural cross-currents, adding a section on "subversion and rebellion" (with Yves Saint Laurent's androgynous 1962 peacoat and Vivienne Westwood's new romantic pirate outfit).

"Gender and sexuality" encompasses Chanel's Breton matelot sweater and pants as an early feminist look, while John Galliano's flamboyant take on pirates and Gaultier's vision of the striped sailor sweater are more sexually ambivalent.

So what is the fashion allure of the ocean?

"A lot of the time it's that crispness of naval tailoring, of the blazer and of the blue and white combination," says Miller, whose book "Dressed to Kill" looks at the historic origins of British naval uniform and its influence on contemporary fashion.

Some pieces on show are purely historical, such as the sailor hat worn by the prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn as a patriotic wartime gesture; or the cocked hat (still in remarkably good shape) worn by Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

Other objects are more evocative, like the U.S. Navy uniform adopted in the 1970s by Talitha Getty, the doomed hedonist. That was the time of "flower children" wearing old uniforms from flea markets as an anti-Vietnam protest and of the subsequent enthusiasm for "hippie chic."

The Saint Laurent peacoat for women immediately joined the ranks of reefer, duffle and brass-buttoned "monkey" jackets that are displayed as iconic naval pieces. Yet behind the YSL inspiration was his admiration for Jean Cocteau, who was fascinated by sailor style. The sailor looks that Antonio Marras has produced recently for Kenzo seem at first like caricatures ó yet they are imbued with his own experience of living close to the sea in Sardinia.

Martin sees a jockeying for gender identity in the 1980s, when the classic 18th-century captain's "undress" coat morphs into the Westwood pirates' look and into the foppish frock coat worn by the new romantic rock star Adam Ant.

"It was going back to a golden age of buccaneers, but rebellious," said Martin, referring to the rejection of Punk, the gender-bending complexities of male frills and furbelows and the emergence in 1979 of the Village People with their cheeky disco hit "In the Navy."

Perhaps the most surprising effect of the exhibition is to see how sailor style has become classic for women, while menswear has retained a subversive undercurrent. From "Shy Di" wearing a sailor collar for her engagement pictures, before she emerged as the glamorous Princess Diana, to a stolid sailor suit by Laura Ashley in 1987, naval looks have become prim and even prissy. Although the exhibition also has examples of sailor style reaching the heights of haute couture, as in Karl Lagerfeld's super chic at Chanel, when a caviar of white pearl beads makes the surface of a white sailor top; or in a Gaultier matelot "sweater" that unfurls into ribbons as a train. (Another famous Gaultier couture concoction was a striped dress with feathers at the hem.)

But try as designers might, menswear ó if you discount the blazer as a perennial summer jacket ó retains a camp, rather than a classic style. And it would be a brave modern mother who put her 4-year-old son in a sailor suit.

The National Maritime Museum, with its permanent collection of historical naval costumes, including those of Admiral Nelson, is part of the Greenwich World Heritage site, south of London. The green field and architecturally historic complex includes the Royal Observatory and the 17th-century Queen's House, designed by Inigo Jones.


The Royal Collection, 2007, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The 1846 portrait of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, wearing the trim cotton sailor suit that launched the nautical vogue.


Foundation PB-YSL
Amy Miller, the exhibition's curator, has identified the cultural cross-currents, adding a section on "subversion and rebellion." As examples, she used Yves Saint Laurent's androgynous 1962 peacoat.


V&A Images
Vivienne Westwood's new romantic pirate outfit.


Conservatoire Chanel
"Gender and sexuality" encompasses Chanel's Breton matelot sweater and pants as an early feminist look. The photo of Coco Chanel at "La Pausa" with her dog, Gigot, exemplifies this tradition.


Kenzo
The sailor looks that Antonio Marras has produced recently for Kenzo seem at first like caricatures - yet they are imbued with his own experience of living close to the sea in Sardinia.


catwalking.com
The exhibition also has examples of sailor style reaching the heights of haute couture. Here is a famous example from Jean Paul Gaultier of a couture striped dress with ostridge feathers at the hem.


catwalking.com
But try as designers might, menswear - if you discount the blazer as a perennial summer jacket - retains a camp, rather than a classic style. (Shown: A Jean Paul Gaultier nautical creation from his most recent collection.)

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01-09-2007
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I like thy style:p.

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12-09-2007
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Oh, I really love that vintage YSL peacoat.

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12-09-2007
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i know someone that wants to use the sailor theme on their wedding for the groom. Any ideas or pics?

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