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
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
High-heeled shoes, push-up bras, Elizabethan ruffs and Japanese platform clogs are just a few examples of clothing that has pushed and pulled the human form into new shapes in the last few centuries. With color photos and illustrations, Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed, which accompanies a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit of the same name, traces the role of fashion in manipulating the body to fit physical ideals. Harold Koda, curator of the Met's Costume Institute, focuses on extreme exaggerations of human form like the European 19th-century bustle, tiny corseted waists or the enormous-hipped dresses of the 18th-century French court, but also shows how today's designers quote and send up these iconic shapes.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.