2017 | 'Dig' | BFash (Design) (Hons)
The deconstruction of the archetypal tailored jacket acted as a springboard for this body of work. By analysing the inner workings of the tailored jacket, I was able to gain insight into the mechanisms and internal structures that support its exterior shell. As I dissected the jacket, I discovered layers of interlinings and padding beneath the surface and was curious about their role within the structure of the jacket. With further research, I was exposed to the art of moulding; a technique employed by tailors to even out asymmetries found in different areas of the body, depending on the client. The compensatory approach to unbalanced anatomical features became evident when reading through traditional tailoring books. One book in particular contained a chapter called ‘Padding for a hollow back’, outlining the construction method used to smooth out the hollow between “very prominent shoulder blades”. The traditional tailoring techniques seemed to neglect the individual’s natural form, morphing it into a standardised shape based on an objective societal perception of the ‘perfect’ body. “Tailoring can add another dimension, not technically possible with other types of garment - to give structure and balance any physical imperfections” (Nordheim 2013) is a quote taken from the book ‘Vintage Couture Tailoring’ that demonstrates a demure attitude towards the body.
Tailoring largely focused on the distinction between perfection and imperfection, accompanied by terminology cataloguing imperfections of the body that could be ‘corrected’ by tailoring methods - the pigeon chest, dowager’s hump, sabre legs, uneven shoulder heights and arm lengths, twisted spine etc. The 1804 Dictionary of English Trades included in its outline of the tailor’s profession, “a master tailor must be able not only to cut for the handsome and well-shaped, but bestow a good shape where nature has not granted it.”
The craft of tailoring seemed to be imbued with an obnoxious sensibility towards the natural body, the underpinning ‘need’ for the body to be perfected refuses the diversity of the human form, instead surrendering the wearer to the non-progressive ideas of conformity it promotes.
Tailoring occurred to me as something that largely orbited around a concreted notion of perfection, which caused me to search for alternate definitions of the term. I posed three main questions that were at the crux of my concept development in deciphering beauty and perfection, collecting answers from four individuals to conduct primary research.
The three simple but dually thought-provoking questions were as follows:
What is beauty?
What is perfection?
Are beauty and perfection connected? Do they differ or are they the same?
I was provided with a whole myriad of definitions, showing diverging ideas and understandings of the key terms. While some individuals spoke in terms of aesthetic value, others expanded the reach of beauty and perfection to mediums outside of appearance. This exercise highlighted the ambiguity and sheer subjectivity of beauty and perfection, proving the tailor’s confinement of them into a single industry-accepted silhouette to be irrational and further, ironic. One participant stated, “beauty is a sensation that is self-imposed and self interpreted. It seems to be a most elusive sensation yet human kind has historically and consistently wanted to define it.”
“...all things are incomplete. All things, including the universe itself, are in a constant, never-ending state of becoming or dissolving. Often we arbitrarily designate moments, points along the way, as “finished” or “complete”. But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition? Is the plant complete when it flowers?"
The Western fixation on perfection and symmetry as a measure of beauty was something I wanted to challenge, contrasting it with the Eastern philosophy of ‘wabi-sabi’. Turning the idea of perfection on its head, wabi-sabi described a version of beauty which transcended the dichotomy of perfection and imperfection by immersion in it. “Dualisms are overcome and one can find beauty beyond beauty or makes peace with ugliness as itself a variety of beauty.” (Sartwell 2004) From this philosophical viewpoint it could be deduced that imperfection is in fact a variety of perfection. This realisation formed the basis for my final prototype; emphasis would be placed upon ‘imperfect’ or unconventional approaches to construction, silhouette and aesthetic. I was able to utilise wabi-sabi practice to make a far departure from the rigid and mundane limitations of tailoring and instead liberate the wearer to embrace diversity and uniqueness in naturality.
The project explored the relationship between perfection and imperfection by using the traditional or ‘perfect’ construction method as a starting point and then gradually progressing into a sequence of altered or ‘imperfect’ versions of the original.
The pieces were treated as ongoing experiments of traditional tailoring techniques with separate interrogations into the construction of the internal mechanisms of the tailored jacket. An example of one experiment involved an investigation into the ‘breakline’ of a tailored lapel. Beginning by following instructions from traditional tailoring books, I produced a typical break line, employing the techniques set out in the text. I then made several reproductions, substituting the materials and methods for unconventional ones, evaluating the impact of these alterations on the behaviour of the cloth (i.e whether the breakline become more pronounced and supported, or more limp and less recognisable).
It was my intention to leave these experiments in a questionable state, the ambiguity of their finality (some may consider them to be unfinished due to their raw, unpolished appearance) ties them to the Japanese notion of impermanence in wabi-sabi.
“...all things are incomplete. All things, including the universe itself, are in a constant, never-ending state of becoming or dissolving. Often we arbitrarily designate moment, points along the way, as “finished” or “complete”. But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition? Is the plant complete when it flowers? The notion of completion has no basis in wabi-sabi.”
The attachment of adjustable straps to each experiment, furthered this concept, encouraging loose interpretation of the pieces in relation to the body. Unlike conventional atypical tailored archetypes, the pieces bear no indicative code of dress. Nondescript in nature, they are untied from any confining standards of wear. Their placement is not predetermined or locally situated on the body, their potential to be continuously repositioned and adjusted upon the wearer links into the principles of impermanence rooted in wabi-sabi theory. To remove the discernible profile of the archetype individualises the experience of dress as each wearer is able to engage in a creative interaction, freely assembling and layering the experiments onto their bodies.
Designer: Phoebe Pendergast-Jones ☆ IG: @phoebes_angels
Angus Eaton ☆ IG: @anguseaton__
Hair and Make-up: Gabby Webb ☆ IG: @gabbywebbmakeup
Nordheim, T 2013, ‘Vintage Couture Tailoring’, Crowood, New York.
Sartwell, C 2004, ‘Six Names of Beauty’, Routledge, New York.