Session 11(a): Portraits of the Fashionable Artist

3rd Global Conference


Thursday 22nd September – Sunday 25th September 2011

Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

Erik Satie Goes on Stage: Uniforms and the Self-Image of a Composer in Turn-of-the Century Paris

Lola San Martin Arbide

University of Salamanca, Spain

Dressed as a dandy, a bureaucrat, a regional school teacher or even as a coffin merchant, Frech composer Erik Satie was easily spotted in Paris during the first half of the 20th century. Leafing through R. Orledge’s Satie Remembered, which gathers hundreds of testimonies and anecdotes about the musician, one can deduce that his appearance is not to be underestimated and that his external image was an artistic statement. After World War I he was known as The Velvet Gentleman to the the anglophile artists of Montparnasse and during the last twenty-five years of his life, not even on the sunniest of days in the Ville Lumière did he leave his house without his famous umbrella. With each of these changes in his appearance came the adoption of a different compositional technique.

With all these eccentric uniforms Satie embraced his lifelong habit of defying preconceived notions of the connections between art and everyday life. The self-image he carefully tailored was in clear opposition to the setting of his room in the suburb of Arcueil-Cachan, which he never cleaned or tidied up. Satie is hence an interesting case study of the opposition of private and public image through the adoption of different uniforms. Many of his friends recall that watching him come out of his house was like seeing an actor going on stage. With this paper I would like to study Satie’s complex relation to costumes, both his own and the ones he chose for his ballets and theatre plays. I would also like to nuance these choices by comparing his personality to that of some of his contemporaries, such as Marcel Duchamp, Maurice Ravel or Henri Rousseau, who, in many ways, acted like him.

Black to Black: Two Mistresses of Black, Siouxsie Sioux and Janelle Monáe

Michael A. Langkjaer

Saxo Institute, Department of History, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Black stage costume takes advantage of cultural traditions relating to matters black. Stylistically, black is a paradoxical color: although a symbol of melancholy, pessimism, and renunciation, black also expresses minimalist modernity and signifies exclusivity. It was well understood by uniformed Anarchists, Fascists and the SS that there is an assertive Presence connected with the black-clad figure. The paradox of black’s abstract elegance, menace, sensual spur, and associations with death along with an assertive Presence is seen with black-clad pop performers. This becomes especially clear when comparing the distinctive stage-styles of Siouxsie Sioux (born 1957, UK) and Janelle Monáe (born 1985, USA). ‘Berlin Bromley’ Siouxsie’s late 1970’s black aesthetic had unmistakable associations with Weimar Berlin in the 1920s, Louise Brooks (‘Die Brooks’), Sally Bowles, ‘Cabaret’, and Nazi chic. It was a look concomitant with that of punk in protesting the dystopian ‘no future’-status of youth in Western society. Leaping forward some 30 years, we see a faultlessly tuxedoed and cape-clad Janelle Monáe reproducing the bourgeois aesthetic of 1920s and 1930s New York City Harlem renaissance jazz clubs, gangsters, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, and classics of American film noir: “I bathe in it, I swim in it, and I could be buried in it. A tux is such a standard uniform, it’s so classy and it’s a lifestyle I enjoy.” Together with Monáe’s utopian references to Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, her trademark starched shirt and tuxedo also recall Weimar and pre-war Berlin. Siouxsie’s and Monáe’s shared, though outwardly dissimilar, black-styled references to the culturally and ideologically effervescent interwar-period raise questions as to what new possibilities – for instance ‘emancipation’ – a comparative analysis might disclose concerning the visual rhetoric of black.