Publication Reviews 34.3

Dilys E. Blum 2011 Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion. Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art: 202 p., softcover $30, available at

Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion accompanies the first U.S. survey of the Italian designer’s work, on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from March 16 to June 5. Through more than eighty pieces spanning the length and breadth of Capucci’s sixty-year career, the exhibition and catalog document the artist’s journey from the “boy wonder” of the Italian fashion world in the early 1950s to the creator of the distinctive “sculpture dresses” of the 1980s onward.

Born in Rome in 1930, Capucci studied at the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti before turning to fashion design in his late teens. In 1951, the twenty-one-year-old couturier burst onto the scene at the second Italian Fashion Show in Florence and over the course of the decade quickly established himself as the most avant-garde of the postwar wave of Italian designers, earning the admiration of fashion luminaries such as Christian Dior and garnering a devoted female clientele, who came to be known as “the Capuccine,” and whose ranks included Italian actresses and noblewomen, as well as the Americans Marilyn Monroe, Esther Williams and Gloria Swanson.

Curator Dilys Blum offers a detailed account of Capucci’s rapid ascent in the 1950s, his struggles after moving to Paris in 1962, his influential trip to India in the 1970s, and his self-reinvention in the 1980s as a fine artist in fabric whose silk sculptures have been exhibited around the world. Capucci’s journey from fine art to fashion and back again perhaps came full circle with his inclusion in the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1995, the same year he was made a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. Each epoch of the designer’s career is illustrated by defining examples of his work from the exhibition.

The catalog’s final section, which covers more than half of its two-hundred-plus pages, presents an extended visual essay on the sculpture dresses, photographed in sumptuous detail by Claudia Primangeli. It is on these pages that the full force of Capucci’s work becomes apparent, especially his surprising juxtapositions of saturated colors and his bold experimentation with silhouettes in which the female form is abstracted into a kind of organic architecture, a habitat of fabric.


David Updike




Kristyne Loughran and Cynthia Becker 2009 Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermès Collection. New York, Museum for African Art: 95 p., softcover $19.95.

This attractive and affordably priced catalog presents some forty examples of North African jewelry drawn from the exhibition of the same name, which originated at the Museum for African Art in New York and traveled to the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., the Arab-American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The pieces were collected by Xavier Guerrand-Hermès, director and vice-chairman of the Paris-based Hermès fashion house, during his years living in Morocco, and range from elaborate silver headdresses and diadems to necklaces, belt buckles, bracelets, fibulae, earrings, and amulets. Most were produced in the late nineteenth or twentieth century, although a few earlier examples are included. Broadly speaking, they divide into two categories: a rural style characterized by large, colorful beads of amber, copal, amazonite, and other materials strung on tightly woven strands of wool by highly skilled women, often incorporating silver or alloy elements such as coins; and an urban style that features intricate metalwork in gold, silver and sometimes both, often inlaid with enamel and gems.

The Maghreb, which includes Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and parts of Egypt, has for millennia stood at the crossroads of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. In her catalog essay “Jewels in the Dust,” Kristyne Loughran discusses the objects in the context of the region’s complex cultural history, noting how its oldest inhabitants, the semi-nomadic Amazigh peoples (also known as Berbers), absorbed techniques and influences from ancient Greeks and Romans, Arabs, Jews, and Spanish Moors, among others, combining them with indigenous traditions and materials to create the elaborate ornamentation that plays such an important role in their lives. “Women endlessly layer headbands, head ornaments, plaques and pendants, giving their adornment an aura of opulence,” notes Loughran. Other ornaments have symbolic importance, such as the beautiful examples of silver khamsa or hand of Fatima amulets with inscriptions in both Hebrew and Arabic, which show how these cultures have coexisted and influenced one another for centuries in North Africa.

Guerrand-Hermès is also an avid collector of photography, and the catalog’s second section presents nineteenth-century albumen prints of North Africa, mostly by French photographers who brought this relatively new artform to the region, taking advantage of the European tourist trade as well as the hunger at home for “exotic” images of life abroad. While some of these works, such as staged photographs of languishing women, clearly partake of the eroticized European “Orientalism” of the time, others offer valuable glimpses of everyday life in cities such as Tangiers, Fez and Cairo, or document styles of dress and ornamentation (including pieces similar to those in the exhibition) among the many ethnic groups that inhabit the region.






Jill D’Alessandro 2011 Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave. San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, DelMonico Books/Prestel: 104 p., $29.95.

This catalog is a companion to the exhibit of the same name, showing at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor. One of the first comprehensive collections of Belgian painter Isabelle de Borchgrave ever shown in the United States, the exhibition and accompanying catalog document de Borchgrave’s life-sized paper garments, based on and inspired by historical costumes and iconic fashions.

A thorough overview of the artist’s exquisite works in handcrafted and painted paper, Pulp Fashion covers three of her well-renowned series: Papiers à la Mode, Fortuny and the Medici collections. Each section includes an informative text introduction, followed by numerous, gorgeously photographed full-color plates of the work. Images include both full-figure works and cropped, detail photographs, depicting the fine elements that make up de Borchgrave’s trompe l’oeil garments.

Rich in visuals, the catalog adds an additional scholarly layer to the eye candy featured in the exhibition and within the catalog’s pages. Pulp Fashion opens with a forward by John E. Buchanan, Jr., director of the Fine Arts Museums, recalling the first time he saw de Borchgrave’s work in her “magical studio” in Brussels. A well-written essay by Jill D’Alessandro, curator of textiles, follows. D’Alessandro provides a fascinating frame of reference for de Borchgrave’s works both in the context and progression of her career, as well as within the greater scope of historical fashion, costume and textile arts.

Pulp Fashion also features images and text regarding one of the pieces de Borchgrave was commissioned to create for the museum’s Collection Connections program—a project to present new artist works that reinterpret objects in the museum’s permanent collections. Based on a painting by Massimo Stanzione, Woman in Neapolitan Costume, de Borchgrave’s Neapolitan Woman showcases her skills, scholarly insights and subtle sense of humor and mystery.

Photographs of the artist and team of collaborators at work in de Borchgrave’s studio offer a welcome glimpse into her construction methods and grand vision, and the work and magic that goes into each ensemble. With a complete list detailing each garment featured in the museum exhibition, and a bibliography of selected readings, Pulp Fashion is an excellent resource for anyone interested in de Borchgrave’s career, fashion and costume history, paper arts, and design. It is available for purchase through the museum store’s website,, with a special discount for museum members.


Jill DeDominicis




Sally Yu Leung 2010 Hidden Meanings in Chinese Children’s Clothing and Accessories. Guangzhou, Guangzhou Publishing House: 217 p., $45, available on Amazon and the Advanced Book Exchange in May.

Beautifully produced and illustrated, this bilingual book covers the author’s collection of Chinese children’s wear and accessories (the Naidongtang Collection); portions of this collection are also on exhibit until October at the Memorial Museum of Generalissimo Sun Yat-sen’s Mansion, in Guangzhou, China, for which there is a small catalog. Although Leung’s collection was gathered in Hong Kong, she lives in California. Interestingly, much of the earlier writing about this aspect of Chinese folk culture has been undertaken by Chinese or Westerners living in the United States, like Terese Tse Bartholomew, Nancy Zeung Berliner, Tseng Yu-ho Ecke or Margaret Duda. In 1991, Gail Rossi and I wrote about Chinese Tiger hats and tried to establish a typology, based on a limited sample from Shaanxi province [Ornament 14 (3)].

Period photographs, enlarged details of embroidery, detailed text and captions in Chinese/English greatly add to the richness and utility of this book; the captions are especially useful for those who do not read Chinese. There are chapters on the significance of clothing decorated with boys at play, children’s hats/headbands (fa-le), ear covers or er-tao, children’s clothing (including vests or kanjian), children’s aprons or dudou, children’s cloak or doupeng, children’s collar or weixian (a particularly wonderful category), children’s shoes, and pendants and necklaces for children. Both this latter category and children’s clothing emphasize the importance of community in protecting the child, as in clothing made from scraps collected from one hundred families or money collected from the same number of friends and family for the symbolic pendant.

This elegant book is a must for collectors of Chinese clothing or jewelry, as well as for museum, college and university libraries.






Anonymous 2009 Hidden Progress & Possibilities. Polymer Clay International Juried Exhibition. 2006-2008. San Francisco, 78 p., $24.49 (from

On demand digital printing now offers a way for individuals or organizations to print high-quality publications in limited numbers, although at a high cost compared to traditional printing, if compared on a per unit cost basis. The International Polymer Clay Association has used this venue to produce a very attractive catalog of their juried 2006 to 2008 exhibitions (the reviewer was a juror for the 2008 show). A wide range of objects made with polymer clay aptly demonstrate the great vitality of this medium, youngest of the many media-driven art communities and now receiving the attention of craft museums. While early use was often for beads and jewelry, the emphasis appears to be shifting toward sculptural objects. It is hoped that polymer will continue to improve and innovate.






Charles Lewton-Brain 2008 The Jeweler’s Bench Book. Orchid in Print. Maximum Bench Work, Vol. 2. Providence, MJSA Press: 112 p., $34.95.

Anytime I visit a jeweler’s studio, I almost always head for the bench; all jewelers want to see how others work.Lewton-Brain, well-known Canadian jeweler/teacher and author, has published his and others in this book, through the auspices of the MJSA and the Ganoskin Project, with major funding by Rio Grande. Readers will benefit by his extensive experience and that of other working jewelers, aided by excellent workshop photos, some of which may have been shown on the Bench Exchange section of the Ganoskin website. Since the bench is where jewelers spend most of their time, it has to be an environment that is conducive to longterm, safe and comfortable working, as many craftspeople in other media have learned. Indeed, the author and others often call the bench a tool, just as important as a jeweler’s other more obvious implements. I cannot imagine a more worthwhile investment than this book, although it will make many less satisfied with their own bench.





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Our upcoming issue 37.4 contains


Nubian Jewelry

Kate Mensah

Philadelphia Craft Show


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