As followers of RECIRC know, RECIRC’s Work Package 3 is actively searching for transcriptions and adaptations of early modern women’s works in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Anglophone manuscript culture. We are trying to uncover how works by women were being read, copied, recycled, refashioned and used by men and women of the early modern period.
Hoping for some light relief from archival research at the British Library, London, I decided to do some window-shopping at my favourite British department store, Selfridges.
To my surprize, I discovered that Selfridges is celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare and has chosen to commemorate the Bard by reimagining his works though an ‘urban fashion lens’ (Young, 2016).
Of course, Shakespeare is well-known for being adapted and refashioned in film, radio, ballet, opera, animation and the theatre, but this is the first time I had witnessed the adapting of Shakespeare in a department store.
Today I thought I would talk you through some of the ways in which Selfridges has chosen to reimagine Shakespeare and his works.
I: Window Displays
Selfridges’s Oxford Street windows are dressed to show twenty-first-century designers’ interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. The window displays are themed around two phases: Act 1, Light and Act 2, Dark.
Act 1, Light is dominated by gorgeous pastel hues. Here we have Christopher Kane’s rendering of Romeo and Juliet in the form of an ‘embroidered tulle lace gown dripping with rose petals and featuring the silhouette of two lovers’ (Theodosi, 2016):
Act 1 also showcases Marques’ Almeida’s version of The Winter’s Tale through a ‘dusty pink layered tulle gown’ (Theodosi, 2016):
In contrast, Dries van Noten’s interpretation of The Merry Wives of Windsor features a series of ‘embellished pleated skirts and corsetry’ (Theodosi, 2016):
Act 2: Dark seems to be influenced by Shakespeare’s dark theatricality, and this is epitomized by Gareth Pugh’s representation of The Tempest in which Pugh spotlights the unseen character, Sycorax:
As you can see, these windows include textual quotations from Shakespeare’s plays which in turn inspires the aesthetic of each display. These dramatic window displays capture the interconnections between text, textile, fashion and theatricality in a twenty-first-century interactive retail environment.
Alongside these ambitious and captivating window displays, designers have also created a series of products that are sold in-store and online. Olympia Le-Tan, for instance, has designed a series of book-like clutch bags, featuring Shakespeare’s works – surely a must have for all fashion-loving book historians!
The master perfumer, Roja Dove, has concocted a musky floral fragrance inspired by the runaway lovers, Hermia and Lysander, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Menswear too is imbued with Shakespeare’s 400th. Here we have Vivienne Westwood’s punk Shakespeare T-shirt, replete with Westwood’s signature safety-pin and golden frame:
For Le-Tan, Roja and Westwood, the referencing to Shakespeare is explicit, but for Christopher Kane and Alexander McQueen, the allusions to Shakespeare’s works are much more indirect and elusive:
III: Performance, Film and Photography
Selfridges teamed up with UK theatre company, The Faction, to create the reFASHIONed Theatre at the heart of the London store in which they produced a contemporary production of Much Ado About Nothing (which ran from August to September 2016).
In addition, a series of in-store performances by musicians took place which saw Shakespeare’s language being reinterpreted through rap. Each musician collaborated with a selected designer to create merchandise inspired by the words of Shakespeare. This initiative saw the likes of Caitlin Price team up with rapper Little Simz.
Alas, these performances are now over, but you can still view the Selfridges commission, The Bard of the Street, a short film and accompanying image series by Mary McCartney, online at http://www.selfridges.com/GB/en/content/article/shakespeare-mary-mccartney-designer-studio
The Bard of the Street features the performer James Massiah as the narrator and is set within the 60s ‘brutalist new town’ of Thamesmead (also the backdrop to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, see Clashfashion, 2016). The 13 cast members are dressed in clothes from designers such as Undercover, Richard Malone and Craig Green.
I went to Selfridges for a break from reception and circulation studies. However, at Selfridges I found myself engrossed by the reception, inventive adaptation and recycling of one the most influential early modern icons.
Clashfashion. 2016. ‘Shakespeare Refashioned: Designer Studio’ http://www.clashmusic.com/fashion/shakespeare-refashioned-designer-studio [accessed 21 November 2016].
Theodosi, Natalie. 2016. ‘Reimagining Shakespeare: To be or not to be – trendy?’ http://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/selfridges-shakespeare-refashioned-campaign-christopher-kane-mcqueen-marques-almeida10474151-10474151/ [accessed 21 November 2016].
Young, Sarah. 2016. ‘Shakespeare Refashioned’ http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/shakespeare-selfridges-london-rick-owens-simone-rocha-christopher-kane-dries-van-noten-shirts-bags-a7197306.html [accessed 21 November 2016].