edited by Magdalena Holzhey and Ina Ewers-Schultz. Hirmer Verlag, February 2019. 288 p. ill. ISBN 9783777431123 (h/c), $55.00.
Reviewed May 2019
Sandra Rothenberg, Senior Librarian/Coordinator of Library Instruction, Henry Whittemore Library, Framingham State University, MA, email@example.com
Tailored for Freedom: The Artistic Dress Around 1900 in Fashion, Art, and Society, accompanies an exhibition of the same name, held at the Kunstmuseum Krefeld, Germany. With essays written by the curators of the exhibition and various scholars, the book takes as its departure point the Krefeld museum exhibition, mounted in 1900, titled Special Exhibition of Modern Ladies’ Costumes Based on Artist Designs. As the first exhibition that considered dress as a work of art, it highlighted the reforms occurring in contemporary women’s dress and blurred the boundaries between art and craft.
From here, fashion around 1900 in Europe is examined, reflecting upon its relationship to art forms such as dance and photography as well as dress reform. Up to this point, women wore a corset, restricting movement, but artistic dress freed women from the constraints of the corset. Artists and designers such as Henry van de Velde and Anna Muthesius in Germany, Vanessa Bell and the Omega Workshops in England, and Paul Poiret and Sonia Delaunay in France designed dresses in this style while also reflecting their own artistic credo. Van de Velde saw his clothing designs as embodying the larger goal of Gesamtkunstwerk or “a total work of art” and as part of the larger arts and crafts reform movement. Muthesius wrote a book on how women should adopt dresses to their own personalities and “to be their own artist,” reflecting new societal attitudes towards women.
During this time, new modes and channels of communication sprung up to publicize and sell this new style of dress. The Wiener Werkstätte, which promoted the reform of everyday objects through superior design and craftsmanship, had a very successful fashion department and advertised their designs with fashion postcards. As one of the first businesses to utilize corporate branding, the Werktstätte also developed an official logo. Fashion magazines such as the Gazette du Bon Ton highlighted new French designs, and photography also was beginning to play a role in the advertising and marketing of fashion.
This comprehensive book is academic in tone, but accessible and readable, and includes extensive scholarly endnotes. While demonstrating the cross pollination of fashion and cultural influences throughout Europe as a whole, there is a distinct emphasis on the topic in relation to Germany. The book contains lovely, high-quality reproductions of dresses, textiles, fine art, and photographs from this period, as well as a checklist of all the works included in the exhibition.