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British Modernism and Chinoiserie$
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Anne Witchard

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748690954

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748690954.001.0001

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Fashion, Chinoiserie and Modernism

Fashion, Chinoiserie and Modernism

(p.133) Chapter 7 Fashion, Chinoiserie and Modernism
British Modernism and Chinoiserie

Sarah Cheang

Edinburgh University Press

Fashion, chinoiserie and Modernism do not necessarily make easy bedfellows. Fashion’s dynamic of continuous experimentation and renewal can be aligned with Modernism’s agenda of artistic reinvention, self-conscious newness and cultural improvement. Dress and interior design were certainly of interest to Modernist designers, and Chinese culture had a significant influence on British avant-garde literature, theatre and the arts. Yet, fashion’s strong conceptual associations with the feminine, with irrational desire and with Western modernity create a complex picture for expressions of Chineseness, and Chinese design often connoted flights of fancy, locations of private pleasure and an intense nostalgia that is antithetical to the progressive and disruptive anti-traditional stance of interwar Modernism. This chapter examines the impact of fashionable chinoiseries in Britain as a culturally important but as yet under-theorised phenomenon of twentieth-century modernity, an equivalent trend to the negrophilia craze of the 1920s and the Primitivist art movement, a hybrid cosmopolitanism and an imperialist Orientalism. The wearing of Mandarin robes as evening coats, the collecting of jades, the lacquering of dressing tables, and the nurturing of Pekingese lapdogs offer new and stimulating ways to reappraise and shed light on the role of the Orient within British Modernism.

Keywords:   Negrophilia, Primitivism, Orientalism, Fashion, Pekingese dog

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