What is Ireland's place on the world fashion scene? Looking good in the latest and the greatest is a dream on the horizon of many girls' minds. It is a common wish, be she in the rural countryside hemmed in by patches of fields, or living in a tall, downtown building skirted by sidewalk and café life.
Be she here or there, the introduction of fashion magazines on the scene transports a girl from quiet Kerry bedroom to Parisian catwalk. The glossy pages are a window into the glamorous world of the New York City socialite and her fabulous wears for every unfathomable occasion. Irish girls fantasize how they would wear this or that dress and become this or that image of femininity and seductive prowess. The magazine pages offer answers to real questions of self-image. They are an escape from everyday life. But the pages can also promote confusing messages.
The 50s Chic, 60s Chic fashion and photography exhibition at The Hunt Museum gets my head exploding with ideas about this complex issue in Ireland. Photography is a powerful form of visual communication for the fashion world. The team of models, stylists, hair and makeup artists, fashion designers, editors, and photographers behind each image create a story that communicates very specific messages to the audience. Often sells images and ideas and products. This summer exhibit at The Hunt contrasts differing messages about femininity in two decades of the photography and fashion.
The 50s messages promoted a sophisticated, ultra-feminine, hourglass-figured, moneyed appearance as the ideal femininity. This look is not just pulled out of thin air. It emerged from a definite historical context. In the years following the Second World War, the aristocrats, actresses, and society models - the actual people depicted in the fashion magazines - were the only people who own elaborate clothing, after years of strict rationing and deprivation by the general population. The images in the pages of Vogue, shot by Baron Adolf de Meyer who was known as the father of fashion photography, were of the wealthy in their natural settings. Thus, a girl looking at these images was a voyeur into the life of the wealthy - it was this lifestyle that was esteemed.
In the 60s, as the ready to wear industry got off the ground, it brought high-end styles to the mass market, and fashion photography's focus shifted. Through a series of photographic innovators such as Richard Avedon, Norman Parkinson, and William Klein, fashion photography became less classical and more modern, appealing to a wider consumer base. The ideal femininity shifted to being younger, freer, and more street oriented, a reflection of the growing youth culture.
This exhibition includes fashion from the private collections of many Irish women as well as an informative, historic tour of the boutiques that once graced the streets of Limerick city. In fact, many of these boutiques are still open today. It was the only fashion exhibition of its kind we found on our travels in Ireland, and I recommend it.
The Hunt Museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10AM to 5PM and Sunday from 2PM to 5PM. For more information, visit www.huntmuseum.com.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007