Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed

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9780300091175: Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed

Over time and across cultures, extraordinary manipulations of the body have occurred in a continuing evolution of the concept of beauty. Fashion can be seen as the practice of some of the most extreme strategies to conform to shifting concepts of the physical ideal. Various zones of the body - the neck, the shoulders, the bust, the waist, the hips, and the feet - have been constricted, padded, truncated, or extended through subtle visual adjustments of proportion, less subtle prosthesis, and, often, deliberate physical deformation.
This book shows that an undeniable if uncanny beauty abides in the bundled cylindricality of geisha tottering on raised geta, or clogs; the tea-tray supporting bustle of an 1880s French visiting dress; the double-door expanse of eighteenth-century panniered court gowns; the bound feet and caged nails of aristocratic Manchu women; the neck-extending chokers of the Masai, of Edwardian beauties, and John Galliano's designs for Dior; or the waist suppression of the sixteenth-century iron corsets and the cinches of early nineteenth-century dandies. The photographs of fashion are augmented by paintings, prints, and drawings and include caricatures by Gilray, Cruikshank, Daumier, and Vernet.

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Review:

Throughout history, humans have used clothing and accessories to lift, squeeze, frame and pad the body. In Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed, Harold Koda deftly weaves anthropology, sociology, art history, and haute couture into a lively survey of shifting notions of the body beautiful. Divided into five sections--Neck and Shoulders, Chest, Waist, Hips, and Feet--the book surveys fashion's literal imprint on the body while tracing the history of clothing styles. The long neck may be the only bodily ideal equally prized by all cultures. Young Padaung women of Burma traditionally wore weighted brass coils that pushed down their collarbones and shoulders, creating the illusion of a remarkably long neck. The wide van Dyke lace collar achieved a similar "triangulated" shoulder-line in 17th-century Europe. Fashionable women in the 1830s relied on hugely inflated sleeves—-held up with down-filled or wire-ribbed supports—-to create the rounded dropped shoulder then in vogue. In the "Feet" section, Koda, who remains scrupulously nonjudgmental throughout, juxtaposes the miniaturized "Golden Lotus" bound foot of pre-Revolutionary China with the reshaping effect of today's stiletto heels. The platform shoe was another way of encumbering a woman's gait, whether as a way of keeping her at home (away from sexual temptation) or as a means of showing her off (the courtesans of Japan and Renaissance Venice perched on elevated soles). Men's body-altering fashions also get their due, from sculpted codpieces and male waist-binding to a front-padded shirt by Issey Miyake that resembles a baseball catcher's uniform. Koda's discussions of the historical allusions of avant-garde designers like Viktor and Rolf, Olivier Theyskens, and Hussein Chalayan vividly illuminate an often murky aspect of contemporary couture. Copiously illustrated with works of art and photographs of clothing and undergarments from many eras, Extreme Beauty packs a wealth of information into a slender volume. —-Cathy Curtis

From the Publisher:

This book is the catalogue for an exhibition at the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from December 4, 2001, through March 10, 2002. Published in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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