Friday, February 22, 2013

Invoking Venus: Feathers and Fashion

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Written by Colleen Tsoukalas (Treasure Seeker Colleen)

For the past five years, I have been sharing a blog with my daughter and writing about fashion, travel, events in Vancouver and Toronto, thrifting and vintage clothing and accessories.  I love libraries and museums and the Fashion History courses at SFU Harbor Centre that Ivan Sayers teaches.

On Thursday, February 7th, I attended the Opening Night of a series of Exhibition Talks at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. The title, " A Passion for Plumage: A History of Feathers in Fashion" really caught my eye because nature is so often the inspiration for designs, textures, colors and shapes seen on the runway.  The red carpet at the museum was a spectacular setting for the feather boas, capes, dresses and accessories from the collections of Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke.  A giant whale skeleton above our heads had us looking up in awe and then looking around to see ourselves surrounded by amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds - did I say birds?  Catherine Stewart's exquisitely detailed photos of birds, male and female and their eggs spoke so much about beauty and how that is reflected in material, clothing, decoration and much more.  There were the photos, all of actual specimens in the extensive Beaty collections, and then there were glass cased mounted exhibits of men's and women's fashion accessories which were all about feathers, for example, hats and bags, and then
items which were embroidered or hand tooled with birds.  I was fortunate to meet Lesha Koop Hines, who works at the museum and is responsible for mounting exhibits.  She, like most of the attendees, dressed up for this event.  I saw a multitude of vintage feather hats, fascinators, clips, jewelry, bird and animal prints, dynamic colors - an animated, excited audience, absolutely..  Constance's brilliant coral silk jacket and giant leaf pin, Gillian's silver and black dress and dangly feathered earrings (for Catherine) and Georgia's blue feathered shawl and necklace were highlights, I managed to catch while thinking that these were surely the beautiful looking at the beautiful.

Catherine, in her gorgeous red dress, talked about this being a collaborative project and the importance of partnership is reflected in her work: nothing is presented in isolation.  "Invoking Venus" is such a perfect title for this exhibition because not only is Venus the goddess of beauty and love but she is also a muse for art and creativity, all of which are so evident in the development and presentation of the work.

Ivan Sayers showcased a wonderful array of twelve outfits, 19th century to the present that were co-ordinated from the hat right down to the shoes.  Accessories, including jewelry and bags complemented each look.  Feathers were everywhere: capes, capelets, coats, dresses, purses, arm bands, fans - all to attract the eye, but as Ivan says, "Look but don't touch.  I can make new friends, but I can't make new clothes."  There were chicken feathers, bird of paradise feathers, marabou stoles, ostrich and auk feathers and more, much more.  There were sparklers, there were colors, there were silks, laces, and textures, all showing women's role throughout history and how hems and indulgence or lack of it also reflected the times.

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum has so much to see that it is necessary to visit throughout the year to see how the collections are the basis for interaction and excitement.  In this exhibit alone, from Feb. 7-May 5, are 4 more Exhibition Talks: Animal Magnetism, Attraction through Fashion (With Ivan Sayers), The Museum as Muse (With Catherine Stewart), Fauna in Fashion, the Exploitation of Animals for Beauty (With Ivan Sayers) and Hatched, Matched and Dispatched, the Clothing Rituals of Birth, Marriage and Death (With Ivan Sayers).  These are scheduled at 2:00 in the afternoons so this makes for an easier, day light visit.

I am so glad that Catherine's work is based on photo images.  I think it is better to design from photographs rather than misusing and hunting animals to extinction.  Ivan Sayers says the fur and feathers
look best on the animal.  Copies and photographs are best!

Thanks to Catherine Stewart, Ivan Sayers, Claus Jahnke and Beaty Museum and staff for outstanding collaboration and a truly great event.

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