Beasts and birds, art and ornamentation

My friend Marina, an artist, invited me to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the exhibit "The Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism". Over early morning coffee, I began to anticipate the richness of the women's attire as painted by Benjamin-Constant, Maurizio Fortuny, Jean-Paul Laurens, and leafed through "Fashion", The Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute's calendar, a gift from my old friend Susan C.

Days like this unfold; all I have to do in this visually rich city is look at the "beasts and birds." On the bus, I saw an elegant woman in a mink coat worn super-casually, the snap of her red scarf evoked the neckline of the 1940 Schiaparelli dinner dress that appeared with the quote:

The exhibition, beautifully-mounted, summoned the East, painted at a time (the mid-19th century) when travel there was dangerous and the spectacular richness of the hammam and souk inflamed the painters' imaginations. The show balances its impressions of ethnic "exoticism" with an acknowledgment of the stereotypes, which detract little from the mastery on display.

Adrift in its langorous atmosphere, I noticed that the visitors wore not even a suggestion of the embroideries and silks of the paintings, yet women eternally seek that sensuous shimmer. A simple black jeans/white tee was lit by a fuchsia fur scarf:

With winter still evident, most of the crowd wore black. This woman looked tidily chic, but reminded me how environment plays directly upon fashion.

Afterwards, Marina and I stopped by Ogilvy, where a 70% off sale plus a further 20% off on that day, dictated a look. She's modeling a Black Watch blouse that she could not resist:

On the way to tea in Place des Arts, we passed a display of an Elizabethan gown, a contrast to the unconstricted, diaphanous clothing of the Orientalism show—the essence of containment, yet still conspicuously feminine.

Winter is slowly breaking up. "The Marvels and Mirages" runs till May 31; maybe Susan will hop a train to see it. 

Painting by Marina Malvada

Marina has her own opening, an exhibition of her mysterious and moving space paintings, at Galerie Luz, from March 11 to April 4.


LPC said…
I struggle so with the concept of "feminine," in much the same way others protest "orientalism." What is feminine, and why? And how does whatever it is relate to "female?" I have far less trouble with "female," although I know that for members of the transgendered community that stirs up its own trauma.
laura said…
looking forward to a trip to Montreal -- where do take tea at Place des Arts?
Duchesse said…
LOC: Feminine (in apparel) is a straightforeard concept for me: clothing or accessories that purposely acknowledge and draw attention to the primary and secondary sexual characteristics of •females•. If a garment can be worn (as is) by either sex, it is not feminine, but the women wearing it can look feminine via her other accoutrements.

And if the opposite sex chooses to wear a garment made for the other (menswear trousers on a woman, a skirt on a man) the effect dinimishes those characteristics, which is sometimes the intention.

Of course some reject the very notion of gender altogether, but I am not so inclined. I find, as a tall, short-haired woman, if I do not at least consider the notion of femininity in clothing, those are the days when I have been called "sir".

Duchesse said…
Laura: We were at Van Houtte, which is a medium sized chain. The PDA location has many food choices and lots of confortable seating,including one area in front of a fireplace. But we were not after a traditional English tea, just a cup of tisane.

If you want a formal cream tea, reserve at the tearoom in Birk's.
Susan B said…
That red scarf against the caramel colored coat is divine!
I love that mink coat!
Only in a cold climate can one wear one without feeling guilt...luxurious warmth a fur coat offers is like nothing else.
materfamilias said…
I love the range of this post -- the museum visit, the Montreal style-spotting, the visit to Ogilvy's (I love that store, altho' have only had a few visits there), just the lovely notion of a wonderful day visiting with a girlfriend.
Anonymous said…
Is fur making a comeback? Or is it just worn in climates where it is fashion as well as warmth?
LauraH said…
The fabrics in the paintings you saw look stunning. They remind me of an embroidered waistcoat in the Bath Museum of Costume, seen many years ago and never forgotten.

I too have been called 'sir' so agree with you - a little personal decoration helps to clarify. Not being a girly girl, I've still come to appreciate more and more the uplift from wearing some jewellery and a scarf with a beautiful texture and colour. It just makes my day better.
Duchesse said…
Anon@4:37: I don't know if fur is making a comeback everywhere; this is a locale where I see it everyday in winter. Personally, I would not wear it strictly for fashion; it is the warmest material I have ever owned.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: So many embroideries are no longer even attempted, so we have to visit them via museum textile collections or see them in paintings.

When I am called 'sir' I'm usually wearing jeans and neutral-coloured parka, and it depresses me somewhat. I don't get it in the summer, thanks be!
diverchic said…
I'm coming. When?
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