The Fantasy of Fashion: Ivan Sayers at the Museum of Vancouver
Sitting in a clean, crisp, white space with the warm echo of a seasoned voice as narration I have to make a conscious effort to stop my imagination from running away from me.
Surrounded by the likes of Vionnet, Schiaparelli, Chanel and Charles Frederick Worth’s extravagant glamour from the 1920’s and 1930’s I begin to wrap my imagination around the fantasy of a girl, who she is and what she is thinking, as the historic details and tidbits of personal acquisition filed in. The exhibit’s historian and curator Ivan Sayers adds the missing details with a perfect flair for an extra smile.
The tone and temperament Mr. Sayers utilizes when recounting experiences of sought out treasure draws you into a perspective where a certain passion for art and fashion are apparent and an appreciation for its history runs deep.
Question: When someone says the word “fashion” to you is there one image, word or designer that immediately comes to mind as your reference or definition of the word?
Ivan: Charles Frederick Worth. He was the beginning of women’s fashion. The craftsmanship and tailoring with intricate detail that went into the garments; the level of creativity within the element of design.
Question: With the exhibit being based around glamour through the wars (1920 & 30’s), Is there one standout, significant event that has happened within the 21st century that has had a direct effect on women’s fashion the way the world war did on the 20th century?
Ivan: No, not yet! World war one had a profound effect on women from a social and political standpoint, with women being allowed to vote and work, but world war one was a liberating movement for women’s fashion. Women went from restrictions and overwhelming modesty, to natural fitting, functional clothing. The social position for women in the 21st century is still full of inequalities, but the century is still very young.
Question: Women’s fashionable dress in the 19th century from neo-classism to art nouveau have been designed to display or disguise the body, and you have been quoted as saying no other century illustrates this better. In comparison to women’s fashion of the 20th and 21st century do you still think the 19th best illustrates this?
Ivan: No! it is definitely the 20th century. From the beginning of the century where the body disappeared and was hidden under layers of loose clothing indicative of designs by Lanvin or Poiret, to garments that displayed the body and the body’s movement most notably women like Marilyn Monroe or Betty Paige. In the 20th century the fashion displayed the more natural state of women and their bodies, veiled nudity, the bias-cut was born and the display or disguise concept was evident from beginning to end.
Question: 100 years from now do you think future generations will be as appreciative of today’s fashion as we are of previous centuries?
Ivan: Yes, absolutely. It is a representation of a certain time, our environment and point of view. The technology, technique and aspects that we appreciate because of humanities progression will be the same in comparison for future generations.
Question: You have expressed your dislike for modern fashion, what is your aversion to it?
Ivan: It doesn’t have a history, or time to develop one. There is no tailoring or well made pieces of clothing, today’s garments won’t be around years from now. It is the designer pieces that have lasted enough to develop a history, they are hand-crafted and tailored and other than haute couture because of the workmanship that goes into the garment today’s fashion wont be around long enough to develop a history or any substantial meaning.
Question: When it comes to women’s clothing, what is the one piece a women can wear today that is modest when required and provocative when desired?
Ivan: A suit, a tailored suit! Worn by women like Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth it evokes a sense of authority and control. A suit is strong and structured. A women’s suit is modest yet tailored to display and move with a women’s body which can be very provocative.
Having amassed one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of historic clothing in private hands, Ivan often jokes that what he has is so vast that he sleeps in the dining room of his three bedroom home.
My own future museum is well under way, and while I consider myself an individual with a steadfast perception of what I interpret as fashionable, my education and professional reputation are still in early development. There is a constant flow of trend in the fashion industry that without depth, growth and a certain amount of experience I can consider what will be known as my expertise temporarily well out of reach.
Ivan Sayers is a true expert on fashion; I am a mere specialist. Nevertheless, with exhibits like the Art Deco: extravagant glamour through the wars featured at the Museum of Vancouver until September 23rd I have the ability to access an endless foray of information through one on one conversation at my disposal.
I may not be an expert yet, but if imitation is the finest form of flattery, then the next generation’s Ivan Sayers is who I strive be.