While these blades date from the turn of the 19th century, tailors’ shears remain prodigious in size. Ms. Collenette recounted the shock of the Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson on first wielding the hefty tools: “He said, with all the football training he did, nothing prepared him for picking up those blades.”
Ms. Collenette’s fascination with scissors was first piqued by an intricate cut-paper scene of a country house, made by Anna Maria Garthwaite and now part of the collections at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. Garthwaite, who was 17 when she pieced the scene together, went on to become a noted silk designer. She would have cut the paper with tiny scissors “the size of a key,” Ms. Collenette said. Seeing continuity between Garthwaite’s cut-paper work and the fine textile designs she would later produce, the curator said she came to “realize how important scissors were in creative development.”
“Once you’ve made a cut with scissors, it’s a commitment,” she said. “There’s no going back.”
“The Secret Life of Scissors” blends display styles of the 19th-century hardware store, puppet theater and a cabinet of curiosities. Scissors appear as both tools and characters, alongside storybooks, film stills and details of their making.
For a postulant monk or nun there is a pair of hairdressing scissors that closes in the shape of the cross, a gift before their hair was ceremonially cut when they were received as a novice. “Without scissors, man is uncivilized — almost bestial, unkempt,” Ms. Collenette said, citing the title character in Heinrich Hoffmann’s sinister book of verse “Der Struwwelpeter.” Shock-headed Peter, “with his nasty hair and hands,” is a cautionary totem for any child who resists the cutting of locks or fingernails.
As a segment in the show devoted to crime suggests, scissors, historically, were seen as a woman’s tool — and weapon. Alfred Hitchcock, speaking of his film “Dial M for Murder,” said: “A murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without hollandaise sauce.”
There were likely good foundations for such violent associations. Women fallen on hard times used their sewing skills to support themselves. Visiting disreputable and perhaps even dangerous neighborhoods, the scissors they carried “became a means of protection,” Ms. Collenette said. At the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, she acquired calligraphy scissors that close into a single pointed blade, at once elegant and lethal.
In Sheffield, for centuries the center of British scissors making, the contemporary cutler and corset maker Grace Horne makes scissors both classic and fanciful, among them a set of murderous blades in tribute to this double role. Her Twisted Seamstress scissors snick shut into a businesslike dagger, with the sensually curved pivot between blades and handle encased in corset-stitched leather.
Sheffield is still home to Ernest Wright & Son, scissors makers dating to the 19th century. A short film by the late photographer Shaun Bloodworth shows the painstaking role of the Wright company’s “putter togetherer” of scissors as he goes through the long process of adjustment and refinement that ensures blades snip straight and true.
Designed to fit the hand, scissors invite our touch. The heirlooms in Ms. Collenette’s collection are smooth and curiously warm at the handles, as if relaying accumulated body heat from centuries of use. “The Secret Life of Scissors” is a small exhibition, but aptly so. Ms. Collenette cites the writer Orhan Pamuk’s “Modest Manifesto for Museums,” in which he cautions against grandness and glorification: “‘We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane, and much more joyful.’”
Ms. Collenette said: “We have all these large museums, but there’s something really special about personal stories. I think that’s particularly the case of scissors. They’re an extension of your hand. You literally see the personal touch.”
“The Secret Life of Scissors” is on display at the Fashion and TextileMuseum in London, Feb. 9 to May 6.Continue reading the main story
It’s fair to say that when you think of print and pattern in the fashion world, Orla Kiely comes to mind as one of the top five names you think of. One of the UK and Ireland’s most successful designers, she’s known for the dazzling way she uses graphic prints on everything from accessories to ready-to-wear. Her runway shows are always a delight whether she’s playing with animal motifs or prints inspired by school notebooks. And now, a brand new Orla Kiely exhibition called: Orla Kiely A Life in Pattern is coming to London’s Fashion & Textile Museum. It will explore how she uses print and pattern to transform the way we feel.
The exhibition will feature over 150 patterns and products, as well as collaborations with photographers, film directors and architects, with a special focus on the role of ornament and colour in our everyday lives.
Orla Kiely, Founder of Orla Kiely said: “It is an honour to announce our first ever exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Over the past 20 years we have built an archive of fashion, accessories and homeware rooted in our signature style. With the exhibition, we will be bringing it all together under one roof in a celebration of design, print and colour that has become the Orla Kiely brand. It is very exciting and an enormous privilege through which we can show the dynamic power of design while looking positively to the future with a clear vision and global identity established.”
Visitors can expect to see original paper sketches for the trademark ‘Stem’ graphic, created in the 1990s. Plus prototypes for her early signature bags and the evolution of the iconic ‘Pear’ and ‘Flower’ designs. Visitors will also get to see what inspires Orla to create her famous designs, how she works to create the products we see, and why she’s so fascinated with pattern. This exhibition is one for design fans and fashion fans alike.
Celia Joicey, Head of the Fashion and Textile Museum said: “I am thrilled to announce next summer’s Orla Kiely exhibition, which will offer a privileged insight into the designer’s world and her outstanding facility for the rhythms and repeats of pattern. The Fashion and Textile Museum has a long tradition of working with women designers, and this comprehensive exhibition will show how the development of Orla Kiely’s sensibility for colour, harmony and form has enabled the global reach of her style.”
Exhibition Dates: 25 May – 23 September 2018
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