Author Archives: mzegarra

Enigmatic Space in Perfume

In the exhibit, Empire of Signs, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City the impact of Chinese art, culture and general aesthetics on Western art and fashion was presented. The thesis was that Chinese aesthetics have driven “fashionable imagination” in Western countries for decades. In this exhibit, enigmatic objects, bodies and spaces were explored and shown to audiences. Enigmatic means: difficult to understand, mysterious. The items presented in the exhibit show this influence both as an enigmatic concept, and enigmatically.

One of the categories of the exhibit Empire of Signs, was Enigmatic Objects. It is here the image of a bottle of perfume is seen.

Les Parfums de Rosine (French 1911). "Nuit de Chine" perfume flacon.

Les Parfums de Rosine (French 1911). “Nuit de Chine” perfume flacon.

This bottle of perfume is from a french company founded in 1911. The fragrance is called “Nuit de Chine”, or Night in China/Chinese Night. For the reason that the perfume is called “Night in China” alone, it represents an enigmatic space. The bottle represented a capitalization of the appeal of mystery the Orient held for Europeans in the early 1900s. The scent symbolized for consumers the appeal of a location they might never visit, but that was “exotic” and shrouded in mystery. It would make them, the wearer, mysterious and exotic, desirable, out of reach. For researchers, the perfume symbolizes a location that is neither in the imagination of a French parfuemerier, nor in a busy Chinese city at night. It is both a location that is nowhere, and is in both places.

good claim: “Night in China” as enigmatic space

This image itself is enigmatic as well. The perfume bottle has a label on it with what appears to be a false Chinese symbol. The label is meant to be uninterpretable, mysterious. It is not meant to be understood by users, nor taken seriously. The French words say the name of the brand, Rosine, and the name of the scent. The dark colored perfume, coupled with the simplistic brass handles on either end are intended to mimic popular European depictions of China. The entire bottle, its simplicity, its vague label, its name are all intended to promote an enigmatic space of China.

the bottle, the label, and the scent created “enigmatic space of China”: the claim is appealing which calls for explanation/support, however.

80s Fashion: Outside Influences and Individuality Signal the Changing Political Scape

First Glance: In this photo taken in 1980 we can see the distinct fashion trends that had taken over the industry in China. The title of the photo, by Li Xiaobin, is Young People in Fashion. From the title, even someone divorced from the fashion trends of the 80’s can tell that these young adults are dressed stylishly. Even today these outfits would be considered to be fashionable, if not a bit outdated.

Outfits: The two women and man in the photo are all wearing several layers of clothing that make an overall appealing outfit. The man is wearing a beautiful, and probably designer coat from an American designer, Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. He layers underneath it a turtleneck, which was the essential 80’s men’s (and women’s) fashion choice. The color of his jacket it both neutral and bold. His hair cut is similar to many American men’s haircuts. The woman at his side is wearing a trendy leather trench coat. She pairs it with a gorgeous scarf that, planned or unplanned, compliments both her male counterpart’s jacket as well as her own. Her own cream turtleneck under the jacket indicates the common 80’s trend. Her hair is in a flouncy ponytail, probably very voluminous in the back. The third woman is wearing what looks like a velvet or corduroy, maroon jacket. She also is donning red gloves. Red was a huge fashion trend in 80s China and nearly all women wore red in some way in their outfits.

Subjects: These three young Chinese adults all look at least moderately well off. In the U.S the 80s saw the birth of the “yuppie” generation. Young, college-educated, professional adults who lived in cities and spent their incomes on material goods, being the culmination of several previous generations hard work to provide prosperity. These people all look very well to do, and are certainly at least middle class if not upper class.

China in the 1980s was different from the US. It was a moment of transition from Mao’s to Post-Mao society

Li Xiaobin, Documentary Photography 1976-1989. Young People in Fashion (1980).

Li Xiaobin, Documentary Photography 1976-1989. Young People in Fashion (1980).

Analysis: As compared to the pictures of fashion trends during the Red Revolution and the popularization of the Mao suit, these individuals are all dressed very differently. The uniformity of the clothes once seen in the 50’s is gone, replaced by individuality. Furthermore, while the Mao suit was a distinctly Chinese fashion item, the clothing these hip young people wear is heavily influenced by European and American designers. This combination of both the outside influences and newfound individuality is indicative of a changing political background in China. The most reminiscent trace of Chinese fashion in this photo is the red gloves. The prevalence of red in Chinese fashion is a holdover from the Red Revolution and the political ties the color had. This photo shows a changing younger population in China and its roots in a changing political climate. a stronger paragraph

without a thesis argument, the analysis could be misled by description. How about the thematic claim of fashion in transition in the 1980s? Then support the theme with denotations/connotation of the photographic image?

Women’s Bodies: Propaganda Goes Two Ways

During the Maoist regime the fashion choices of Chinese citizens changed drastically. The unofficial uniform of the public was a Mao suit, a buttoned, neutral shirt with utilitarian pockets. These became the collective outfits of the people and they were worn by men and women alike. As time went on the Mao suit became a cultural icon for the Maoist regime and was equated with both support of the Republic and Mao himself. As such, the Mao suit morphed not only into a piece of clothing, but a symbol used in posters, art, and theater. In this analysis, I examine two images of women’s bodies that are shown wearing a Mao suit to support the Communist government, but in very different ways.
define “women’s bodies” and make a critical claim

In this first example here, we see a poster of a woman operating a tractor or some other large  Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 5.20.02 PM

agricultural machine. She is smiling and happy in her work, wearing comfortable and practical clothing. Here the Mao suit she wears is used as a tool to universalize her to the Chinese viewers of this poster. As the focus of this image, her female body is the most prominent aspect of the art. Interestingly, her body is draped in the baggy Mao suit fabric in a way that intentionally does not show off any curves she might have. We as viewers of this poster are not meant to think of her as sexual but instead as a worker. Her purpose as a supporter of the Communist regime is much more than as a reproductive female body, it is important also as a farmer working to support the country. how about the idea of gender/sexual erasure as the topical sentence?

In the following image, we see a group of ballerinas performing in the ballet The Red Detachment of Women in 1971. These women of the Red Guard are holding guns and wearing the traditional Mao suit with a red armband. In stark contrast to the photo above, the women here are wearing a skin tight version of the same clothing. They are clad in short shorts and Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 5.04.06 PM

high socks that accentuate the thigh and leg. Furthermore, their hair is all immaculately pulled back into a cap and they are gracefully posed within the painting. Their chest is forward and their legs in full view. This image, is intended to show off the female body as distinctly female far more than the other image we see. any connotations regarding this image?

While both these images of women wearing the Mao suit are meant to support the party’s cause, the reasoning behind each is very different. In the first image, it is about the physical power and ability of the woman to be a worker. This is meant to appeal to women who want to work and be productive members of society. The second image is meant to appeal to the desire for beauty and grace. Each is meant to support the Maoist regime, however, they use women’s bodies to do so in very different ways.

female body concealed in working uniform and female body exposed through military uniform: what do the images suggest?


Historical Qipao, Popular Qipao, and Revitalized Qipao: The Importance of Patterns

The qipao as we know it has existed for the better part of century. However, long before that, the qipao was a standard item of dress and fashion. The oldest version of a qipao that is still visibly connected to what modern fashion gurus would consider a qipao dates back to the 1890s. This type of robe was made of brightly colored yellow silk and had the same high neck we see in modern qipaos. It also had intricately embroidered floral accents to give the gown dimension and make it more beautiful. The buttons used to fasten the robe closed are made of silk cord knots. The embroidery we see in this early qipao are of flowers and vines, they are traditional and beautiful and reflect even older fashion trends from previous dynasties.

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1890s Ladies Silk Robe

If we skip forward only 40 years, the qipao is much changed. This 1930’s qipao looks much more like what we expect with its capped sleeves and form fitting cut. The same standard features of the older qipao are present with silk cord buttons, high collar, and intricate design. Yet, it is a much changed dress. The pattern on this qipao is modern and printed. It reflects a change in the direction of a more industrial process for making clothing. It also is a simple pattern of one image repeated over and over again. In the earlier qipao robe, the illustration is more like a scene with a continuous vine running through the robe. Here the pattern is a distinct and intentional detachment from the older more traditional design of embroidery.

1930s Printed Silk Qipao

1930s Printed Silk Qipao Artist/maker unknown, (1930s) Reproduced from ArtStor.

In a photo from the 2010s the famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing is shown wearing a modern qipao. The gown she wears in this image is clearly a modern adaptation of a historical fashion item with its statement one-shoulder and trailing train cut. Though, despite its being modern in style, the dress itself is more true to the historical roots of qipao than even the dress from the 1930s shown above. Here Bingbing’s gown is the historically relevant color of yellow which is an extremely honorable color used in pre 1900s Chinese fashion. Furthermore, the embroidery is similar to gowns from the Manchu time period when the embroidery was meant to show a scene and not a pattern.

Actress Fan Bingbing

The important of the patterns here is historically relevant. If we take the first silk robe in this post to reflect the historical values and role of fashion in politics, then the comparison to the qipao from the 1930s is clear. It is far more reflective of a more democratically based government and shows a shift into the industrial age of machine made fabrics. Then, ultimately the shift back to more historically respectful trends in qipao are seen in the last photo. Here the qipao is being used to reflect the history of Chinese fashion. It is a modern cut, but with historical embroidery and design. This is an interesting arc in the qipao’s fashion resurgence, that in order to re-emerge as a fashion trend in the 2000s, it has to be even more historical than the qipao from 1930.

the post could be much more persuasive should you address the question of what the change/transformation of qipao suggests and make an argument at the beginning


Footbinding: The Dream vs The Reality

Chinese footbinding has existed for upwards of a thousand years. Since its inception among the upperclass and nobility, it gradually spread to working class Chinese as well. The process of footbinding involves the breaking of multiple bones in the foot and wrapping of the injured area and lower leg. This painful process leaves the woman in a state of discomfort for years and subsequently, makes walking and independent movement very difficult, if not impossible. Because of this, it was a sacrifice to the family of working class women to bind the feet of their daughters who would not longer be able to provide labor the family might desperately need.

may start from here: In the four images in this post, we see two very distinct types of golden lotus shoe. The first two, are what we might expect. They are small, dainty, and beautiful, while the other two are utilitarian and bulky. In comparing these images, I will explain how the reality versus the dream of footbinding affected working class women so much.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.39.08 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

These golden lotus shoes are intricate and delicate. We see that they are carefully hand embroidered with many important symbols. In the red shoe with a tassel, there is a delicately stitched rooster. This indicates a good marriage between the wearer and her husband. The tassel further indicates the plush and dainty lifestyle of the wearer. She is an ornament. The purple shoe shows embroidered flowers which one can interpret as the sign for wealth and success. These shoes would have been worn by a young unmarried woman.

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Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

These shoes are incredibly delicate, and meant to be worn by women who would not often walk around outdoors. One can see this because of how intricate the embroidery of the silk is. Wearing these shoes outdoors in the elements would be a waste of them, they’d be ruined.

In contrast, these next two images show shoes that are much more practical for outdoor use. Both the shoes in these images are made of leather, a durable material, more appropriate to outdoor use. In the first of these shoes, we see small crafted spikes on the bottom of the shoe. The stitching and base of the shoe all indicate something created for wear and tear, or at the very least, repeated use. The shaft of the shoe goes up higher than other golden lotus slippers, possibly indicating that it is meant to protect the wearer from snow or rain, various other elements.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.12.22 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

The second pair is even more utilitarian than the first. It is also made of leather, and is meant for stability as indicated by the flat sole and sturdy front flaps with eyelets for laces. These are neutral in color, black, and meant to be worn everyday.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.16.07 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

The difference in these shoes shows the difference in the lives of rich and poor footbound women. Rich women could afford to wear the delicate embroidered silk shoes, and lounge about their home. Poor women still had to work however, and as such wore more utilitarian, practical shoes. While footbinding was the ideal of beauty for more than a thousand years, its appeal was much more for the dainty embroidered shoes. The reality of footbinding for women of a working class was not the beautiful shoes we’re accustomed to seeing in context of footbinding, but rather these plain, utilitarian shoes.

detailed comparison. the difference could mean different materials in different time