Beast

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The Winter Mode room at Fashioning Winter shows how popular fur was becoming in the 1910s-20s as a trim on garments, with an elegant Belle de Chamonix skating in her white fur. It also includes a cartoon strip from ‘The First Book of Eve’ by Anne Harriet Fish, demonstrating the dangers of leaving the snarling head on one’s accessories.

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By the end of the twentieth century, designers were looking for new ways to modernise the use of fur, leading to experimentation with colour and treatments. In the documentary ‘Unzipped’, Isaac Mizrahi finds inspiration for his AW 1994 collection while watching the 1922 silent film, ‘Nanook of the North’. He was particularly attracted to the ‘beast’ fur worn by the Inuit in the film, which ultimately appeared on the catwalk in the form of abbreviated chubbies paired with sweeping floor-length gathered skirts in rainbow bright colours.  Where do we look for innovation in the twenty-first century?

Fashioning Winter is also showing an exceptional piece by the designer, Bea Szenfeld. A mannequin at the bottom of the Stamp Stair is largely obscured by the animal draped over its shoulders. The animal – perhaps a female lion or a snow leopard – has been handmade entirely of paper. It is utterly beautiful and it stops visitors in their tracks.

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The piece comes from the designer’s SS2014 collection, ‘Sur la Plage’, which took inspiration from the fragility of nature. There is both irony in the piece – one of nature’s supreme killers made of paper – as well as recognition of the dangerous culture of disposability that has applied equally to animal species and daily resources.

In the span of a century we see fashion’s appropriation of the ‘beast’ move from frivolity to thought-provoking statement. Does it work? For my money, a garment that makes a statement works if it is also beautiful and maintains a certain dignity. I find the paper leopard fascinating.

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