Amelia’s Magazine | A Review of 50 Fabulous Frocks at the Fashion Museum, Bath

Fashion Museum, Bath, 50FF Review
Illustration of 1900s champagne fancy dress costume, unknown maker, by Freddy Thorn.

Like any good birthday bash, it begins with champagne; a bottle of 1904 Veuve Clicquot to be exact, taking the form of an elaborate Edwardian fancy dress ensemble.

Recently listed by CNN as one of the top ten fashion museums in the world, Bath’s Fashion Museum has come a long way since its creation by Doris Langley Moore and the Bath City Council in 1963. This is a varied exhibition, featuring 50 of the fashion museums ‘greatest hits’ with dresses spanning across the ages, from one of the oldest dresses in any UK museum (a 1660 piece affectionately known as the ‘Silver Tissue Dress’) to a fresh-off-the-catwalk 2012 Louis Vuitton piece. Eveningwear sits comfortably by poolside attire, sportswear next to corsets; each dress a snapshot of fashion history.

5 dresses at 50 Fabulous Frocks exhibition, Fashion Museum, Bath
Illustration of 5 of the 50 dresses by May Van Milllingen.

There are plenty of ‘celebrity’ frocks here: a Christian Dior dress from the 1950s, a Chanel from the 1960s and a Jean-Paul Gaultier from the 1990s just a few of the gems in this collection. With dresses that have graced the pages of Vogue alongside cages and crinolines, these pieces form a dynamic exhibit exploring dresses across the centuries.

Black lace Rocha dress now part of 50 Fabulous Frocks Exhibition
Red lace Erdem Dress on Catwalk
Photos of red and navy lace Erdem and black Rocha dress by Chris Moore.

An ostrich feather 1960s Yves Saint Laurent concoction made for ballerina Margot Fonteyn catches my eye as does a Dame Vivienne Westwood regency style dress nestled among the kinds of dresses it’s emulating. A 1940s pink Mickey Mouse aertex dress sits next to a polka-dot housecoat lined with gingham and there’s even a wedding dress from the 1890s among the ranks. These clothes are famous; there’s a red mini dress worn by Ernestine Carter, a former Fashion Editor of The Sunday Times, as well as an Ossie Clark dress literally taken straight out of a David Hockney, Tate painting.

Dress by Poiret part of 50 Fabulous Frocks Exhibition.
Alexander McQueen dress from 50 Fabulous Frocks exhibition
50 Fabulous Frocks  cream silk dress
Photos of Poirot dress, Alexander McQueen dress and cream silk ball gown provided by Fashion Museum, Bath & North East Somerset Council.

I go to the exhibit twice, once with my friends on a sunny Saturday and we whizz through it in true tourist fashion (pun intentional) as I snap a few photos. We amble through the corsets and cages, pantsuits and Burberry raincoats, quickly and hungrily. We notice a group of young female museum-goers all wearing the same outfit in alternate colours, each one clad in a pair of converse paired with brightly coloured jeans. I note that in this exhibit, the tables have turned, and the dresses, behind the security of their glass cases, are the audience for our own catwalk as we prance back and forth.

3 dresses at Fashion Museum, Bath
A Vivienne Westwood dress (centre) alongside two dresses from the late 1800s, illustration by Karolina Burdon.

The second time I go by myself on a rainy Sunday and I listen to every single commentary for each dress, writing notes as I go. The other gallery-folk are, like the dresses, a melting pot: families with young children; a few fashion students drawing the dresses in their sketchbooks. Amongst the chatter I can hear loud, excited French. Thirty or so people come and go while I examine the collection.

Bath Fashion Museum, Georgian
Wall text at Fashion Museum, Bath
50 Fabulous Frocks Dresses Bath Fashion Museum
50 Fabulous Frocks
50FF Dresses, 50 Fabulous Frocks Dresses Bath Fashion Museum
50 Fabulous Frocks Exhibition, Fashion Museum, Bath
All photography by Jessica Cook.

While I sit on the floor sucking the end of my pen and agonising over the spelling of ‘Vuitton’, there is a mother and her two children in the museum providing an alternative narrative to the info handsets. “Mummy, what is it?” says child no1. The mother pauses for a second as though thrown off balance by the question, “It’s dresses from the last 50 years,” she says, which is wrong, and I feel the same wince I had as a kid when I first realised that parents aren’t infallible. The exhibition is a celebration that the Fashion Museum is 50 years young, but the dresses themselves span across the ages as far back as the 1600s. Her mistake is understandable, as the date underneath the sign does read 1963- 2013 after all.

50 FF 3 of 50 Fabulous Frocks, Fashion Museum
Red wool mini dress by André Courrèges, black Ossie Clark gown and 1930s evening dress, illustration by Gareth A Hopkins.

Wow!” says child no2 as he reaches a dress from the 1800s. “Isn’t it amazing?” says the mother, her eyes alight. “Just like mummy used to wear,” she says pointing at a short, red little number. The children press their faces against the glass as though they are looking into the past.

Woman in champagne dress
Photo of champagne bottle dress provided by Fashion Museum, Bath & North East Somerset Council.

The 50 Fabulous Frocks exhibition at the Fashion Museum, Bath is open from 2 February 2013 to the 31st December 2013. Entry is £2.

Categories ,50 Fabulous Frocks, ,Alexander McQueen, ,Bath, ,Bath City Council, ,Birthday, ,celebration, ,Champagne, ,Christian Dior, ,CNN, ,corset, ,David Hockney, ,Doris Langley Moore, ,Dresses, ,Edwardian, ,Erdem, ,Ernestine Carter, ,Eveningwear, ,exhibit, ,fashion, ,Fashion Museum, ,Freddy Thorn, ,Gareth A Hopkins, ,history, ,Jean Paul Gaultier, ,Karolina Burdon, ,Louis Vuitton, ,Margot Fonteyn, ,May van Millingen, ,Mickey Mouse, ,museum, ,Ossie Clark, ,Silver Tissue Dress, ,Tate, ,The Sunday Times, ,Veuve Clicquot, ,Vivienne Westwood, ,vogue, ,Wedding Dress, ,Yves Saint Laurent

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Japanese embroidery artist Kaoru Hirota of HIPOTA

Lobster by Hipota

It wasn’t that long ago that I watched The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), the Japanese, Studio Ghibli refresh of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, and looking at Hipota‘s petite, crafted edibles and teenie-tiny animals, I can’t help but be reminded of the film. These artworks are so real, and so little that they have a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids element to them.

Pineapple by Hipota Banana by Hipota

33 year old Japanese craft artist Kaoru Hirota makes intricate embroidery pieces under the name Hipota. Having stumbled across her creations on the web, I was completely captivated with the detail and lifelike feel of her embroidery, especially the bite-size fruit and vegetables, which bear a strong resemblance to the real thing. With some pieces doubling as purses and brooches, these are the ultimate twee fashion accessory and the pinnacle of hand-made craft items. Dinner-table yummies, including peppers that bear beads instead of seeds, make my eyes water, not with hunger, but with fascination. Alice in Wonderland style pansies and blood-red lobster are all part of the foray into a thread-composed natural world that you encounter when you look at Hipota’s unique work. The detail of the pieces is striking and they have a cartoon-esque quality which gives them an extra pizzazz. Kaoru has a real talent for bringing thread to life and each of her pieces has its own personality.

Hipota Illustration by Jo Cheung Hipota by Freddy Thorn
Kaoru Hirota illustrations by Jo Cheung (top) and Freddy Thorn (bottom)

Initially these pieces look like crochet and the dexterity of Kaoru‘s fingers and the imagination of these works, really give her crafts their own stamp. The beauty is in the meticulousness of these small and lovable creations. Hipota‘s works range from tiny, delicate flowers to adorable little toadstools and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! With swans donning regal, fingernail sized crowns and character-full monkeys, these are the equivalent of soft toys for adults. More importantly, many of then are fun pieces that could give a real hand-made addition to any ensemble, or make a statement home-ware piece.

Avocado by Hipota
Brocolli by Hipota Hipota's Peas by May van Millingen
Hipota's Peppers by May van Millingen
Illustrations of Hipota‘s peas and peppers by May Van Millingen

Hipota‘s work is more than just embroidery, it’s like crawling into a craft created world where everything is carved from thread. Avocados, frogs, zebras, her range is startling and the pieces themselves are captivating. The only real pitfall of writing this piece, is that I’m dangling an (embroidery) carrot in front of you that’s out of reach as these little gems are only available from stores in Japan.

Tiger Purse by Hipota Hipota by Levi Bunyan Shark Purse by Hipota Illustration of Hipota zebra purse by Levi Bunyan

Although Kaoru Hirota, the needle behind Hipota proved hard to get hold of, and there was a bit of a language barrier, it was worth the challenge to get a quick insight into her lovely, dwarf artworks.

How long have you been embroidering?
For seven years.

Why did you choose the name Hipota?
My name is Kaoru Hirota so I thought that I would use the brand name Hirota. I was learning Russian at the time, and in Russian, p expresses r. I thought this was really interesting. Therefore, I used the brand name of not Hirota but Hipota. The right pronunciation is actually “Hirota”. However, people often call me “Hipota”. Incidentally, in Russian Hipota is хи pota.

Monkey by Hipota
Guerilla by Hipota

How do you choose the subject of a new project?
I like to use embroidery to express well-known forms, for example: animals, vegetables, and the often seen thing.

Do you use any other crafts to make pieces?
I only embroider, I can’t knit!

Leeks by Hipota
Onion by Hipota
Hipota Pea Brooches by Sam Parr Hipota pea brooches by Sam Parr

A lot of your work is fruit, vegetables, animals and flowers, is there a reason you focus on nature?
As in nature, results differ, so I can’t make the same thing twice. For example, if two strawberries are made, both strawberries would be completely different. I think that we can say the same thing about vegetables and animals!

What are your plans for the future?
I will continue only with embroidery from now on.

Hipota by Jo Cheung
Strawberry by Hipota
Hipota by Suky Goodfellow Illustration of Hipota strawberry by Jo Cheung and illustration of Hipota toadstools by Suky Goodfellow

How do you make the pieces so small? In such detail?
I observe things intently and I strive to express a colour and a form as it is. It’s mainly through trial and error that I learnt to do it. If you look at the work I did seven years ago you would be surprised!

What needle do you use?
It is a very ordinary needle. It is a thing called “nuibari” in Japanese.

Where can people buy your products?
I don’t have a webshop but you can buy my work in some stores in Japan. At Bazar et Garde-Manger and Tote.

Sea creatures by Claire Kearns
Illustration of Hipota‘s sea creatures by Claire Kearns

When I was little my grandmother would knit cuddly toys for me. These inanimate friends were different to my other soft companions, not because they were knitted, but because they had been made with love. Looking at Hipota‘s creations makes me feel a genuine sense of wonder at the power of human creativity that I thought was all but lost with childhood. Not just that, but I feel she really manages to put a part of herself into her art, especially as she mentions that each piece is unique. Just like the lovely, loyal cuddlies my grandma knitted for me as a kid, these pieces have stolen my heart, and hopefully, yours too.

Crab by Hipota
Seahorse by Hipota
Fish by Hipota

All photography courtesy of Kaoru Hirota

Categories ,animals, ,Bazar et Garde-Manger, ,Brooches, ,craft, ,crochet, ,embroidery, ,Freddy Thorn, ,Fruit, ,handmade, ,Hipota, ,Honey, ,I Shrunk the Kids, ,japan, ,japanese, ,Jessica Cook, ,Jo Cheung, ,Kaoru Hirota, ,knit, ,Levi Bunyan, ,nature, ,Purses, ,Russian, ,sea creatures, ,sewing, ,Suky Goodfellow, ,The Borrowers, ,The Secret World of Arrietty, ,thread, ,Tiny, ,Tote, ,vegetables

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