Monday, December 15, 2008

The many elaborate gowns of the Maiden Queen...

Posted by Alpha Auer

Naergilien Wunderlich is a re-creator of historic costumes, based upon gowns from historically famous portraits, in Second Life®. She bases her work on a thorough examination of the original material, and not only just from the paintings themselves but also in extensive research conducted in costume departments of noteworthy museums on styles and specific epoch related characteristics of the garments, telling us about herself that "... at the tender age of six I started to sew, two years later I got a sewing machine as a birthday gift. When I was about twelve, I made many of my clothes myself. In 1987, at the age of sixteen, I started sewing and collecting 1950's clothing. Ten years later I became interested in Edwardian and Victorian clothing, and ever since then, my studies of historical garments went practically further backwards.

By now I am specialized in (English) Elizabethan women's garments, and also Victorian clothing, of which I'm more interested in the crinoline- rather than the bustle area... But, as already mentioned, I'm still studying, and as any serious student, I will probably never be finished studying and learning. I am currently in the process of writing a book on English Elizabethan costuming, my favorite period of fashion. The book will - hopefully - be a guide for studying, dating and re-creating Elizabethan fashions for beginners as well as for advanced seamstresses. The book will contain information about how to correctly date Elizabethan fashion in paintings, movies and on extant garments; how that fashion developed from Tudor to Baroque and, of course, tutorials, tips, tricks & hints on how to create an at least half-way period Elizabethan garment today"

A true wonder by Naergilien Wunderlich is a very close replica of the red dress from the Maiden Queen Elizabeth's famous Pelican Portrait, c1575, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, where a number of devices are used to communicate messages about Elizabeth, including pearls in association with her purity, the Tudor rose for unity and the pelican pendant pinned on her chest for love. The pelican brought with it a whole host of associations that Elizabeth adopted for herself and it became one of her favorite symbols since pelicans were believed to pluck their own breasts to feed their starving young, often dying in the process.

In Second Life the Pelican Gown comes in a variety of colors, the red version being of course, the one which is historically accurate. However, I loved the charcoal version so much that I wanted to feature it alongside the red one. The background of the photo is a Vanitas by Franciscus Gysbrechts and the full image can be viewed here

During my lengthy conversation in-world with Ms. Wunderlich she told me that there was considerable debate in the community of costume historians as to whether this gown ever really existed, since from a structural point of view it seems that it would have been impossible to sew this garment in the way depicted in the painting. Ms. Wunderlich has put an end to this side of the debate by reproducing the garment stitch by stitch in Real Life. However, as to whether this makes it a garment possible in Real Life still remains up for debate since the gown weighs a hefty total of 44 pounds and it takes a full hour to put all the pieces on. Ms Wunderlich also tells us that "putting on makeup is not included in that time, though half an hour for getting adjusted to the stays is". Indeed it would seem that there is considerable query within the research community related to the field as to whether the bulk of the costumes worn for official portraits were nothing but wearable props, which the subjects would have merely posed in, but that these garments would not be worn as such, due to their weight and elaborateness which would have seriously hindered locomotion. However, Ms. Wunderlich says that she has worn the garment on occasion and although it would be impossible to drive a car in it due to the voluminous skirt; it is otherwise comfortable - particularly since the garment seems to generate its own climate, keeping the wearer warm in the winter and cool in the summer due to the natural fabrics and the ventilation caused by its various parts.

We are in a day when wearable computing designers such as Thecla Shiphorst and Yacov Sharir are busily designing garments in Real Life that are intelligent, that move based upon input, display visual and textual data sent to them via bluetooth technology, that can indeed whisper subliminally: Thecla Shiphorst's Exhale project shown at Emerging Technologies at Siggraph in 2005 would be one fine example in which the gorgeous skirts were not only softly breathing in and out whilst emitting a subtle light, based upon biological input generated by the heartbeat of the wearer. Furthermore they would also change behavior whenever more than one person wearing one of them gathered in proximity, at which point they would start exhibiting group behavior patterns. True that at this juncture most of these sophisticated computational garments are created with specialized aims to be used in specialized fields such as for instance dance & technology practices and performance arts; but I imagine that we will be seeing them on our own humble Real Life backs soon enough...

So what is possible and impossible in Real Life when it comes to wearables seems to me to be a very thin line indeed - and so again, I would say that ultimately it all boils down to imagination, to intent: If a garment that I put on in Second Life transports me back to the Elizabethan era, makes me the Maiden Queen for a few minutes - that to me is NPIRL. It is obvious that I would be unable to accomplish this here in the material world with any great ease - I do not have the time or indeed the manpower, in the shape of a host of ladies in waiting, to put on and take off a garment that is so complicated (not to mention heavy) that it has a whole scientific community flummoxed as to whether it could have existed as a "garment" in the first place. And the wonderful Ms. Wunderlich gives us the utter joy of being able to indulge in the fantasy, to relive the era in Second Life.

A close-as-possible an SL reproduction of the above shown gown in the Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I., painted in 1603, has been donated by the designer to a fundraising soirée for the SL Shakespeare Company (SLSC).

Says Ms. Wunderlich: "Only three copies of it will exist in SL: One, obviously, belongs to me. Another one will go to the wardrobe of the SLSC, to be used in their plays. The third is actually the ONLY one that will be available to the public; it will be auctioned off at the fundraising soiree. It can be worn in several ways; with/without the loose gown, with / without the jewels; and I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say that this is the most complicated gown I made so far in SL. Others have donated / made items for the auction as well; just to name a few: Alastair Whybrow; Aberdon Enigma and SimplyAmy Iwish".

The auction will be open for one week, ending on Sunday, December the 21st. Bids can be made by dropping a sum in a notecard to either Naergilien Wunderlich or Ina Centaur in world. Ms. Wunderlich will be keeping the current figures updated on her blog here. You can view the dress at Ms. Wunderlich's store to where you can teleport directly from here.

Although the two Elizabethan gowns above are the main subject of this post, I simply cannot resist showing you just a few more of Nargilien Wunderlich's historically referenced dresses:

The Ophelia Gown has been created after John William Waterhouse's 1910 Pre-Raphaelite painting by the same name . It was then adjusted to match the Elizabethan age. And it is historically correct outside of the shaping restrictions in Second Life, for the period of around 1575 to 1580. The background image is a musical still life by Evaristo Baschenis, c. 1645.

Here I have taken a poetic liberty and placed gowns from two different eras side by side: The Drunken Duchess (on the right) is Roccoco, having been modeled after one of the gowns of "Georgiana" from the movie "The Duchess". It is historically correct outside of the shaping restrictions in Second Life, for the period of around 1780; whereas the Elizabethan Servant's Outfit (on the left), was modeled after several paintings of Tudor/Elizabethan Servants, and again, outside of the shaping restrictions in Second Life this too is historically accurate for the period of around 1500 to 1600. I have placed these against a a painting entitled Still-Life of Flowers, Shells, and Insects by Balthasar van der Alst, c. 1635.

More on Naergilien Wunderlich's virtual historical costumes practice can be found at her own blog here, whereas her Real Life work in this area is covered here. And finally you can teleport to her store in world directly from here. Larger sizes of the images shown here can be viewed on my Flickr stream here.


Cleocatra said...

Beautiful work!

Anachronista said...

Having just visited the main store, I got to speak with Naergilien Wunderlich herself about her dresses. I've seen many historical gowns (and worn a few) in 'real life' and I must say I'm totally impressed with her craftsmanship. She is by far the best designer I've seen in SL doing period fashions.

The auction price is far out of my reach already, but at least I got to see the Rainbow gown on her...and the details are just... amazing...I'm floored.

I'm going to commission her to make a virtual copy of a red gown I have in real life!

Alpha Auer said...

I am sure she will do a wonderful job of it. However, I am curious as to why you would want that in the first place?

It seems to me the ultimate glory of what Ms. Wunderlich creates is that she is giving us things that we really cannot have in Real Life. That to me, is the utter magic of what she does.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for helping us publicize this in your insightful post!

More photos for you (and perhaps some photography lighting suggestion)

Anonymous said...

Please add Maxwell Graf to the list of auction donors! (He'll probably poke-prod me if his name isn't mentioned >.>)