The Vulgar, Fear & Creativity

The Vulgar Exhibition, an exhibition that explored the term Vulgar hosted at the Barbican, a brutalist multi-arts and residential center in London. I wanted to see if the exhibit could reveal the magic line between ridiculous/inspiring and vulgar.

I can generally glean a nugget of knowledge, from everything I do and London has really good exhibits from Barbican, The Crime Museum Uncovered, with photos and displays of evidence and their strange stories to the V&A, Alexander McQueen show which I went to at least 5 times and found something new to look at each time, and the recent The Vulgar exhibit which explored the term Vulgar and how it has evolved and different interpretations of the term highlighted through fashion and literature.

Vulgar originated in Latin as Sermo Vulgaris meaning common speech as opposed to the more formal and social dialect of classic Latin. The use of vulgar meaning common has evolved into meaning a lack of good taste or explicit and offensive.

Lack of Good Taste

Sparkly Bra dresses range. This was exactly what I am talking about in this blog post! I love the first one, it is interesting, exciting and inspirational. The all black one is good also. The third pink I think is a bit ridiculous, and there is an element humor as she looks like she is wearing a crown. Finally the last one, I really do not like. I will need to reflect further these to see if I can figure it out. I would love to hear if you have any ideas you have on what makes the first won great and the last one not. Or perhaps you think differently, I’d love to hear that also.

Explicit and Offensive

Rudi Gernreich’s 1960’s Topless swimsuit was so shocking it had to be displayed for exhibit on a wall rather than a mannequin. I don’t actually find it offensive, but I am sure there are some who do.

I fear being seen as lacking in good taste, but I refuse to be restricted to conservative tailored clothing. I must have a bit of an edge to be truly content. However when it comes to designing I often get caught in the trap of wearable, sell-able, and tasteful which can be very limiting.

I had hoped the exhibit would explain/reveal that secret zone that is edgy, exciting and breathtaking without falling over into vulgar. Yes that was a bit much to ask of an hour in an exhibit. To explore the exhibit more take a look at New York Times. However I have a sense that I am closer to my goal, and that it isn’t about a mysterious zone that is agreed upon by everyone but a place within myself which I must explore and ultimately trust.

Now I need to figure out how to banish the fear and the voices, internal and external that judge.

Exploring the fear

I fear the place of mis-aligned, drawn-on eyebrows, crocheted tissue box covers, cheap plastic anything, and ugly sparkly sweaters. Imagine my surprise that here in England there is a deliberate ugly Christmas Jumper tradition.

Exploring the voices that bring fear and doubt. The voices that I recall from my youth that would say, “look at that outfit” with the tone of admiration verses the same phrase with the tone of disgust. How to banish the voices that confine me?

My own experience of revulsion at design and craftsmanship. The earliest I can recall was at the Twin Sisters boutique in San Jose, California. My grandma’s neighbor and her sister created this business venture which was really just a garage sale.

I love flea markets and garage (boot) sales. Amazing treasures can be found for just a bit of money, allowance money when I was a child. So when I was young, while visiting Grammie on a weekend, she said, girls (me and my sister) lets go down to the sale. I had a bit of money to spend, perhaps Grammie gave me a couple of coins, I don’t recall. I was excited with the prospect of a new treasure and supporting Grammie’s friend in her new business.

Grammie, little sister, and I 1970’s

It was awful and I was disappointed. The things she and her sister had made were the most poorly made things I’d ever seen. I truly believed I could do better. Now granted my Mother is a master seamstress, with a good eye for colour and has taught sewing, so perhaps my standards were higher than your average girl of about 7 years old. Grammie insisted that I get something, but there was nothing I felt was worth my few coins. Finally, Grammie gave me an understanding glance and said, “just pick something”, so I chose a tacky lopsided pot holder with crooked stitching and fraying seams.

I fear having someone look at what I make with the horror and revulsion. Intellectually I know this is highly unlikely, but it is a non-rational fear.

A Friend who makes Monsters

Tamara is the most organized person I have ever met, in what appears to be every part of her life.  She manages the household accounts with a masterful use of spreadsheets. She hosts parties where she makes beautiful food and is dressed before the first guest arrived. She works at either a job or her own business, is a mother, wife and considerate daughter. Her personal dress is conservative and classic. And if that isn’t enough she has a hidden side, she makes monsters. The most amazing creative creatures. Usually with sharp teeth or long claws, but they contain a magical balance of whimsy and ugly to equal amazing.

Somewhere in craftsmanship and design is a magical place of beauty. Tamara’s monsters were inherently ugly but in such a sweet way and the attention to detail of each one is superb. Where as even simple square-ish pot holders from Grammie’s neighbor were vulgar.

The Vulgar was an interesting exhibit but it ultimately failed to reveal the secret sweet spot of where the brilliance of creativity and design tips over the top and slides under the bar, into tacky and repulsive. I think there is an element of superb craftsmanship that moves the bar. If the exhibit was still on, I would go again but more slowly the second time.

Hats Included

A bit more about hats and head pieces at The Vulgar exhibit. There were some divine Viennese bonnets from the Wien museum dated 1780-1810. I didn’t find any photos or links.

There was a reference to Sally Victor’s Mondrian style hat which to my delight I saw at the High Style exhibit and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, May 2015. The Vulgar explored the ideas of imitation. I gathered a few images together featuring the Mondrian style.

Imitation vs. Inspiration

Sally Victor Hat 1962
Piet Mondrian Composition C 1935
Yves St Laurent AW 1965/66


In addition, at The Vulgar there were hats from Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones and a couple more, which I should have written down. Hats were not the focus, they rarely are in exhibits, but I was pleased they at least were given some attention.

The quest in finding my artistic voice continues. I would love to hear about your quest to find your artistic voice.

My Hat in a Gallery!

I would like to introduce, Migration, a hat I made of teal pleated sinamay with hand beaded butterflies and a seed beaded crown. This piece was inspired by a mix of several pieces from the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum of Childhood (MoC).

Migration Morley Gallery

Over the last several months I have designed and made three different hats for three hat contests. Not all the hats made it to the second round of judging, but to my delight I got an email that my hat, Migration, was accepted by the V&A Inspired by… contest and that it would be exhibited at the Morley Gallery in London.

Inspired by acceptance

If you would like to read more about my “Inspired by…” entry, Migration. I am in the Exhibition Catalogue on page 3.
If you want to learn more about the UK based “Inspired by…” contest or details on the exhibition Inspired by…2016 is on exhibit from 17 May 2016 – 17 June 2016. Please check the website for the details regarding opening hours.

Migration 2 Rear Right web

Migration 3 Left web

Migration 4 Features web

I recently attended the Gallery Preview and Awards night at Morley College. It was a thrill to see a hat I made on display in a gallery. I just discovered a video of the event on the Inspired by…website. My hat shows up around :13 as well as my family and I on the left side at 1:21 for 1 second! It was a lovely evening with good weather, fabulous music, and creative people.

Inspired by… is an event for adult learners throughout the UK to submit photos of a piece of art/craft they have created with inspiration from something in the V&A collection. The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. The V&A Museum of Childhood (MoC) is located in Bethnal Green and where I drew my inspiration for this piece. MoC have effectively created a place that is interesting and fun for both adults and children.

I have been attending classes at Morley College for several years and it is a wonderful place to learn new things and meet people. Many of my friendships have grown from classes at Morley.

Migration 5 In Progress

This is a collage of images highlighting the pieces I was inspired by as well as the hat making process.

Inspired by… at Morley Gallery is a small and diverse exhibit, I encourage you to go take a look. It is around the corner from the Imperial War Museum, just a short (5 -15 min) walk from Lambeth North or Elephant & Castle tube stations and Waterloo station.

Loving living in London!

and remember…interesting people wear hats.

Heads and Tales
by Aage Thaarup

Aage Thaarup book cover image

Heads and Tales by Aage Thaarup is a book I saw at Jane Smith‘s class at Morley College as well as in her workroom, then I saw it referenced in the Forward of Susie Hopkins book, The Century of Hats as part of the forward written by Philip Somerville.  The cover sleeve image alone is enticing enough, but the combination of all three was irresistible. I had to read it.

“I can’t go no lower,” said the Hatter. “I am on the floor as it is. . . .” Alice in Wonderland

It was an intriguing opening quote. It didn’t sound up beat or encouraging. An odd way to start a book.  However by the end of the book, I understood.  The book was first published in 1956 and Aage Thaarup had already experienced a roller coaster ride through starting up a couture millinery business, a World War, money issues and a passion for travel.


The book is a fabulous collection of stories told by Aage Thaarup that conveys not just his experiences and attitudes but it also reflects a different era. There are many of references to Princess Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and other society ladies.

Aage Thaarup (1906–1987) was a Danish-born milliner who ran a celebrated hatmaking business in London from the 1930s up to the 1970s. His hats adorned many famous and beautiful heads.

He made hats for the Queen Mother and her princess daughters, later one of them would become Queen.
queen mother in Aage design

A young Queen Elizabeth needed a hat for Trouping the Colour, which is the queen’s official birthday, not to be confused with her actual birthday (earlier this week – 21 April 1926). This would become arguably his most famous hat.

young queen trouping the colours

What I enjoyed about the book was Mr. Thaarup’s determination and resilience.  Although money management was not one of his strengths.

He was creative, resourceful and brave. Heads and Tales was written while he was trying to recover from his second round of bankruptcy.  He describes how low he was at the time, which clarified why he choose the opening Alice in Wonderland quote I mentioned above.

He seemed to cultivate a good relationship with the press as well as clients and could design with different ends in mind, some for  attention and some for beauty.

Aage Thaarup hat on model

Vogue cover feb 1949

Being from California, I believe California’s generally align with Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Sacramento. I am from the San Jose Bay Area, also known as Silicon Valley and the small(ish) coastal town of Santa Cruz and although I am not from San Francisco, I feel like it is my representative Californian city, and thus felt a sense of pride when I encountered the following quote on page 204.

“I flew back to San Francisco, where people were polite, where the waiters side “Thank you”, and everybody was rather nicely dressed, as befits a city with a soul.”

Other places to see Aage Thaarup and his hats are the V&A as well as some British Pathe films.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has a few Aage Thaarup pieces. They have much of their collection online which is an extremely useful reference.

Pink Velvet Hat by Aage Thaarup from the V&A Collection.

Aage Thaarup in V&A pink velvet

Daisy hat by Aage Thaarup in the V&A Collection.Aage Thaarup hat in V&A collection daisy

British Pathe films – Aage Thaarup designs a hat to look like Royal Albert Hall on British Pathe.

Which seems odd, until you read his book and realize that for a while he was popular for making hats resembling landmarks after doing a hat resembling the Rangitoto volcano while visiting New Zealand.

Aage Thaarup British Pathe

There are several more British Pathe Movies of Aage Thaarup. They are just a couple of minutes and good fun to watch.

In summary, Heads and Tales was an easy read mostly told through anecdotes about travels, clients, WWII, and millinery. It is a reflection of his journey from a small boy in Denmark to a couture milliner in London, starting over again in 1956. It was interesting, educational and inspiring.

When asked which is his favorite hats, “My favourite hat — is the hat I am going to make tomorrow .”

and remember…Interesting people wear hats.

Alexander McQueen at V&A – Not to be missed!

The Alexander McQueen exhibit Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is spectacular.

I have been to several exhibits at the V&A over the last few years. David Bowie was good, Horst was a pleasant surprise, the Italian exhibit was a disappointment. But the Alexander McQueen exhibit is not to be missed. It has been so popular that my husband and I got tickets for, get this, 8:45 AM on a Sunday morning. I was great. There were people there but it wasn’t crowded.

tailored coat

It starts with his craftsmanship in tailoring, then takes you right into some really dramatic pieces, each room a new visceral experience.

I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.

And many of his designs are very powerful.
I am not much for birds. Don’t get me wrong I like birds, but I don’t really think about them much. Since starting in millinery, I think about them a lot more, particularly their feathers. McQueen’s use of feathers is astounding.
feather coat

Gothic Mind

“I don’t see it as aggressive – I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of a personality.”

Not long after moving to London, my daughter and I were getting on the tube, and there was a man in front of us with the most amazing shoes. To my daughter’s embarrassment, I asked him about his shoes, he said they were Alexander McQueen. That was the first time I remember connecting that name with a piece of clothing. They looked something like this.

AMcQ shoe

Things start to connect. Alexander McQueen’s graduation collection was bought by Isabella Blow. Phillip Treacy made lots of hats and head pieces for Isabella Blow and for Alexander McQueen. I don’t know the order of things, but it is cool when things start connecting. I’d heard of the Phillip Treacy butterfly headdress, but I hadn’t known it was made for Alexander McQueen.

Whether you are into fashion or not, this exhibit has something for everyone. Just to give you an idea of the breadth of experience. My husband who is in the Technology field and a friend’s husband who is a taxi driver, both enjoyed it.

I hate to over sell the exhibit and have you be disappointed, but there were times that I was nearly in tears at the extent of his creativity and mastery. The time, the materials, the craftsmanship, sigh. However with that said many of the things on exhibit are definitely wearable art / performance wear.


In the 1990’s McQueen’s trousers often were very, very low in the back and seemed to just cling to the buttocks, known as Bumsters.  Wasn’t this about the time when this low back tattoos became popular. We used to call them whale tale tattoos. I wonder if those two things are related.

many of the images were from the V&A website, shoe image from,