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Article

Pamela Elizabeth Grimaud

(b Tunis, Feb 2, 1935).

French fashion designer, of Tunisian birth. Alaïa is renowned for his ‘second skin’ fashions and masterful cutting techniques (see fig.). Christened the ‘King of Cling’ by fashion journalists, Alaïa rose to prominence in the 1980s following years of realizing commissions for a loyal and select clientele. His designs are modern, overtly feminine in their celebration of the female form and, in Alaïa’s own words: ‘not sexy, voluptuous’. Alaïa’s sculpted fashions have been known to render other designers’ fashions unwearable—they simply feel too large in comparison.

Born in southern Tunisia, Alaïa was raised by his maternal grandparents and at the age of 15 undertook the study of sculpture. Realizing soon after that sculpture was not his calling, and serendipitously passing a dressmaker’s window on his way to classes, he saw a sign for an assistant. He was hired for the task of finishing hems at five francs apiece. Alaïa rose quickly to become a favourite of Tunisian high society, copying for the local clientele the work of the great ...

Article

Martha Schwendener

[Ben Youseph Nathan, Esther Zeghdda]

(b London, Nov 21, 1869; d Brooklyn, NY, Nov 27, 1933).

American photographer. Born Esther Zeghdda Ben Youseph Nathan to a German mother and an Algerian father, she immigrated to the United States in 1895. She worked as a milliner in New York before opening a photographic portrait studio in 1897. Her ‘gallery of illustrious Americans’ featured actresses, politicians, and fashionable socialites, including President Theodore Roosevelt, author Edith Wharton, artist William Merritt Chase, and actress Julia Marlowe. Ben-Yusuf also created Pictorialist-inspired artwork like The Odor of Pomegranates (1899; see fig.), an allegory informed by the myth of Persephone and the idea of the pomegranate as a tantalizing but odourless fruit. Ben-Yusuf was included in an exhibition organized by the Linked Ring, Brotherhood of the in London in 1896 and continued to exhibit in the group’s annual exhibitions until 1902. Her photographs were exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1898 and at the Camera Club of New York in ...

Article

Ann Poulson

[Verginie, Jean Dimitre]

(b Alexandria, Aug 6, 1904; d Athens, Aug 2, 1970).

Greek fashion designer based in Paris. Dessès was born in Egypt to Greek parents and arrived in Paris in the 1920s to study law and diplomacy. By 1925 he had changed his mind and was employed as a designer for Maison Jane. He left Maison Jane to open his own couture house in 1937 at 37, Avenue George V, eventually moving to 17, Avenue Matignon. Dessès is best known for his silk chiffon evening gowns draped asymmetrically in a Neo-classical style.

Though Dessès was raised in Egypt, he considered Greece his native land and the influence of Greek antiquity is clearly seen in his signature draped evening gowns. In appearance they resembled garments represented in ancient sculpture, but in construction they were more closely allied to the moulded and heavily structured gowns of the 19th century, being mounted on corseted bodices and stiffened petticoats. Over this foundation he skilfully manouevered the fabric into pleats and twists, bunches and braids, occasionally releasing it into a flowing scarf. When Dessès used materials stiffer than his favourite silk chiffon, he would often incorporate similar techniques, using sunray pleating or knotting the material, sometimes gathering it at the hips to suggest paniers....

Article

Beth Dincuff Charleston

(b New York, June 27, 1945).

American fashion designer. Few designers have managed to be as influential as Norma Kamali without extensive press coverage. Specializing in ready-to-wear garments, Kamali introduced the world to the concepts of high-heeled sneakers and mix-and-match bikinis, originated the ‘sleeping bag’ coat and was the first designer to see the wide sartorial possibilities of both sweatshirt jersey and parachute silk (see fig.).

Kamali received her training at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, graduating in 1964 with a degree in fashion illustration. Kamali then worked as an airline employee, a job that introduced her to the pleasures of transatlantic shopping. In 1968, inspired by the fashions she saw in ‘swinging’ London, Kamali opened a boutique on 53rd Street in Manhattan. Mixed in with her British finds were her original designs, featuring appliqués of lizard, leather and snakeskin and rhinestone-studded t-shirts. When she moved to Madison Avenue in 1973, a ...

Article

Christine Robinson

[Ingrid Mwangi Robert Hutter]

(b Nairobi, 1975).

Kenyan and German performance artist, installation artist, photographer, and video artist. Mwangi’s work addresses notions of cultural difference, social conventions, racial categories, and national identity, primarily through an autobiographical lens. She has often utilized her body as a subject and engaged with questions related to her own African-European heritage. In 2005 Mwangi shifted from a mostly solo practice to a collaborative partnership with her husband, German artist Robert Hutter (b 1964). From that time, the pair has worked and exhibited exclusively under the name IngridMwangiRobertHutter. Together they have explored larger human experiences and universal issues of stereotypes, fear and negotiations between different cultures, genders, nationalities, and religions through multimedia works that have produced cross-cultural dialogues.

Mwangi was raised in Nairobi by a German mother and a Kenyan father. In 1990, as a teenager, she moved with her family to Germany and studied at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar in Saarbrücken from ...

Article

Christine Robinson

(b London, Sept 27, 1974).

British photographer of Ghanaian and Dominican descent. Perrier’s work primarily explores portraiture and its historical traditions in Africa. Her photographic projects address her own multicultural identity by questioning themes of diversity, cultural belonging, and identity.

Perrier graduated with a BA from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Farnham in 1996. That same year she travelled with her mother to Ghana for the first time and made Ghana, a series of documentary photographs of people, interiors, and details of life both foreign and familiar. In the series she depicted quiet moments such as a small arrangement of photographs and books in an otherwise empty corner of a room, and made individual and group portraits of family members she had just met. Upon her return she completed the series Red, Gold and Green (1995–7): photographs of her extended family members in their London homes. The photographs documented her relatives—all first, second, and third generations from Ghana—seated or standing before the Ghanaian national flag in their own chosen clothing, ranging from sequins to Kente cloth (...

Article

Lourdes Font

[ Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, Yves Henri Donat ]

(b Oran, Algeria, Aug 1, 1936; d Paris, June 1, 2008).

French fashion designer ( see fig. ). In the late 20th century, few fashion designers could match Saint Laurent’s versatility, flawless sense of proportion and painterly gift for colour. From his six seasons as head designer at the house of Dior to his forty-year career at his own house, Saint Laurent safeguarded the standards of the Paris couture. Beginning in 1966, he and his partner Pierre Bergé also created an international network of ready-to-wear boutiques, launched fragrance, cosmetics and menswear subsidiaries and supervised the production of licensed products. The basis for Saint Laurent’s success was a talent nurtured by a deep knowledge of art and literature and a love for the theatre. He began his career as an innovator, able to synthesize the legacies of earlier couturiers while keeping a discerning eye on the contemporary street. In 1976, Saint Laurent demonstrated that, like Dior, he was capable of transforming the fashionable woman with a single collection. Having created a style of his own, Saint Laurent ended his career as the standard-bearer of French modern Classicism....

Article

Kevin Mulhearn

(b Cape Town, 1964).

South African installation and multimedia artist. Searle received her MA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town, in 1995. Her work has regularly addressed the complex politics of identity in South Africa and the deep and contested historical roots that inflect its contemporary manifestations. She has often used her own body in her work and dealt with themes connected in some way to her own complicated heritage, but she has typically produced work that also speaks to broader issues of both local and global import.

Much of Searle’s art has grappled with the history of South Africa’s ‘coloured’ people, a multiracial population that was the outcome of centuries of cohabitation between indigenes, Europeans, and imported slave labour. In her photographic series Colour Me (1998–2000), Searle covered her skin with such spices as clove and turmeric, allowing her to acknowledge the trade in these commodities, which prompted European settlement on the southern tip of Africa in the 17th century and brought slaves to the region from present-day Malaysia and Indonesia. The dual video projection ...

Article

Andrew Cross

revised by Mary Chou

(b London Aug 9, 1962).

British sculptor, painter and installation artist. Born to Nigerian parents, he grew up in Nigeria before returning to England to study Fine Art in London at Byam Shaw School of Art and Goldsmiths’ College where he completed his MFA. Shonibare’s West African heritage has been at the heart of his work since he started exhibiting in 1988, when he began using ‘Dutch-wax’ dyed fabrics, commonly found in Western Africa, both for wall-mounted works (as pseudo paintings) and for sculpted figures. Generally perceived as ‘authentic’African cloth, the tradition of Batik originated in Indonesia, and was appropriated by the Dutch who colonized the country. Manufactured in Holland and Britain, the cloth was then shipped to West Africa where it became the dress of the working class in nations such as Nigeria. Shonibare used the material as a way of deconstructing the more complex histories that determine these and other images of ethnicity. As such, he has been described as a ‘post-cultural hybrid’ or the ‘quintessential postcolonial artist’ by critics as well as the artist himself....