by Giulia Cassano
A farewell to summer
“…Her hair was as a wet fleece of gold, and each separate hair as a thread of line gold in a cup of glass. Her body was as white ivory, and her tail was of silver and pearl. Silver and pearl was her tail, and the green weeds of the sea coiled round it; and like sea-shells were her ears, and her lips were like sea-coral. The cold waves dashed over her cold breasts, and the salt glistened upon her eyelids”. (1)
Sirens, ribbons, sand, sea, glitter…
A mermaid costume / dress with grosgrain (2), ribbons and lining.
I have always loved sirens: they add a touch of mystery to the seas, with all those ancient stories about pirates and beguiling women. This is where I found my inspiration when I took pictures of Carolin, who kindly came in on the joke.
We carved out a little bit of time to go and look for the proper corner on the cliffs, the best suitable place where to portray this figure, and we found it beyond a small seaside cave.
A gloomy end-of-summer celebration evoking the taste of salt water and of the sunlight that strikes the sea and is reflected away.
In Ancient Greece sirens were beautiful mythical creatures in contrast to harpies, female monsters in the form of a birdÂ with a humanÂ face. They lured the mortal man with their enchanting music and voices trying to take him away. In Greek mythology they were believed to be souls that at the time of their death were not honoured through the practice of appropriate sacred rituals and for this reason they were thirsty for revenge.
Sirens are bewitching, enchanting and enticing: Homer often narrated their drawing power in his epics, he described them as seductive temptresses with a soothing honeyed voice, but at the same time he warned to beware of them and to stay alert.
The elegant silhouette of the siren has also been a source of inspiration for many fashion designers such asÂ Azzedine AlaÃ¯a (3), who loves skin-tight dresses and whoseÂ seductive slinky mermaid dresses are appreciated by women all over the world.
He has also drawn inspiration from the shapes created by the great designer Madame Vionnet (4)Â who, in the early 20th century, introduced the bias cut within the fashion world -Â a technique for cutting cloth diagonal to theÂ grain of the fabric enabling it to cling to the body while movingÂ with the wearer and so creating flattering wrap dresses at a time when the stretch fabric wasn’t in widespread use. Her stunning mermaid gowns with innovative draping were worn by iconic stars of the 1930s and 1940s such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.
Curiosly, when AlaÃ¯a was asked to sew a particular dress designed by VionnetÂ on a dress form,Â he ran into difficulties as Vionnet used to create her dresses by sewing them directly on a dress form in reduced proportions and often by using fabrics specially created for her.
My dress is made of found objects, similar to those kept in Ariel’s Secret Grotto in the sugar-coated Disney (5) version of Andersen’s (6)Â fairy tale.
In this case:
– one grosgrain ribbon roll
– decoration stones for fabrics
– some old lining
– remnants of golden leather
To create the bodice I have stitched enough ribbon strips together in order to obtain a bandeau top, then I have sewn two darts on the front bodice to help create shape at the bust.
The bodice back is open. I have cut some ribbons out of the lining to lace up the bodice.
I have made a bias-cut skirt and then I have sewn a waistband made of grosgrain, a side zipper closure and ribbon to tighten.
Model — Siren: Carolin Schubert
– Guido Vergani, Fashion Dictionary, Publisher: Baldini Castoldi Dalai, Milan 2009
– Oscar Wilde,Â A House of Pomegranates
– Maurizio Bettini and Luigi Spina, The myth of the sirens: images and stories from Ancient Greece till today (original title: Il mito delle sirene: e racconti dalla Grecia a oggi). Publisher: Einaudi, 2007
– FASHION, a history from 18th to the 20th Century, Volume II, the collection of the Kyoto Institute
(1) Oscar Wilde, The Fisherman and his soul, short story published in 1891 as part of the anthology A House of Pomegranates
(2) It’s a direct French loan word meaning a large grain hence a coarse texture. The strips are used in tailoring as application or as internal reinforcement for dresses.
(3) Azzedine AlaÃ¯a, Tunisian fashion designer born in 1940
(4) Madeleine Vionnet ( Madame Vionnet), French fashion designer (1876-1975) best known for having helped to “free” women from the heavy and constrictive corsets of the early 1900s.
(5) The Little Mermaid is an animated film produced by the Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1989 and based on the namesake fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.
(6) The Little Mermaid (Den lille Havfrue) is a fairy tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1836.