The Mechanical Smile


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Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929

Caroline Evans

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A superlative study of the roots of the modern fashion show

In the early 20th century, the desire to see clothing in motion flourished on both sides of the Atlantic: models tangoed, slithered, swaggered, and undulated before customers in couture houses and department stores. The Mechanical Smile traces the history of the earliest fashion shows in France and the United States from their origins in the 1880s to 1929, situating them in the context of modernism and the rationalization of the body. Fashion shows came into being concurrently with film, and this book explores the connections between fashion and early cinema, which arguably functioned as what Walter Benjamin called “new velocities”—forces that altered the rhythms of modern life.

Using significant new archival evidence, The Mechanical Smile shows how so-called “mannequin parades” employed the visual language of modernism to translate business and management methods into visual seduction. Caroline Evans, a leading fashion historian, argues for an expanded definition of modernism as both gestural and performative, drawing on literary and performance theory rather than relying on art and design history. The fashion show, Evans posits, is a singular nodal point where the disparate histories of commerce, modernism, gender, and the body converge.

Caroline Evans is professor of fashion history and theory at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, a constituent college of the University of the Arts London, as well as a visiting professor at the Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University.

“Caroline Evans is a rare academic in that she can actually write in a way that the rest of us, who are not academics, can understand and appreciate. She is clearly serious about her subject, but understands that no amount of knowledge has value if it is not communicated clearly . . . it makes compulsive reading for all who are serious about fashion and its history . . . Evans shows in great and fascinating detail how fashion shows opened up the world of designer clothing simply by showing it in motion . . . This is a book to keep by your side as a reference that will surely reveal much more than you might first imagine.”—Colin McDowell, The Business of Fashion,

 “It looks amazing.”—Charlie Porter,

“‘Fashion people were all very suspicious of anyone trying to write a history at all.’ Since then there has been a definite shift, and Evans’ new book, The Mechanical Smile, marks a big development within its field, being the first book to trace the unwritten  history of the first fashion shows.”—Isabella Burley, Dazed & Confused

"Caroline Evans’s wonderfully illustrated book offers a vivid historical analysis of the mannequin’s role in French and American couture from 1880 to 1929 . . . Her [Evans’s] account of the relationship between mannequins, triple mirrors, chorus lines and Modernist painters such as Marcel Duchamp is compelling . . . Although modern theory, on topics such as ‘the gaze’, is offered, the wealth and breadth of contemporary material here almost speaks for, and certainly illustrates, itself.”—Philippa Stockley, Country Life

ISBN: 9780300189537
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
338 pages, 9 x 11
80 color + 170 b/w illus.

The Making of a Museum

Judith Clark; With contributions by Caroline Evans, Amy de

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