Second Hand Museum

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Second Hand Museum

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Nigerian Female Attire

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Nigerian Male Attire

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White Dress

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Green Dress

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Red Dress

Second Hand Museum  • 2011

Installation, clothing, mixed textiles and wood, variable dimensions

Nigerian Female Attire  •  2011

Traditional Dress  •  The main difference that is self-evident when European-style clothing is compared with its Nigerian counterpart is the custom to use seams very sparingly to support the fabric, utilizing instead special folds or knots. Wide strips of fabric cut in polygonal shapes are wrapped freely around the body, forming a soft composition that leaves room for adjustments in accordance with the taste and comfort of the wearer. The buba is a loose-neck blouse usually long enough to extend below the waist, often ending on the arms with long flared sleeves. Always tied on the sides or folded into variety of different ways, is the iro, a rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and covering the knees.

Nigerian Male Attire  • 2011

Traditional Clothing • As in the case of the clothing worn by women, the buba, an open neck tunic, this time long enough to reach the thighs, covers the upper part of the body. The long flared sleeves remain unchanged. The baggy trousers called sokoto go from the waist to the ankles, while a round cap called fila is worn on the head. The combination of the three elements described form the traditional male attire, which as a whole takes the name of dashiki.

White Dress  • 2011

Evening gown (1803) Bodice made from woollen baby undergarments. 1980s jacket buttons. Rubelli fabric. Jewel with scraps of fabric and leather from a bag.

The dress style that emerges during the First French Empire survives the empire itself and lasts for a few years after its fall. The fashionable silhouette in this period radically differs from the past, entirely abandoning all artificial modifications of the female body in favour of a loose and natural line. Stays, corsets and paniers become unpopular, and underwear is reduced to the bare minimum. The clinging, graceful dresses are clearly inspired by classical light tunics, with a long straight line, flaring out at the bottom, with a short train and a high waistline gathered under the breasts. The favourite colour is white, a clear homage to classical sculpture.

Green Dress  • 2011

Evening gown (1867) Skirt, Rubelli fabric. Overskirt, fringed knit woollen poncho. Printed silk skirt. Bodice created by repurposing a house frock.

After the mammoth bustles of the mid-1860s, the size of the skirts begins to shrink. The fullness of the skirt is in many cases obtained by overlaying an overskirt draped up at the back and topped by an apron style tablier top layer half skirt, while the decorations are embellished with buttons, fringes, braids, ribbons and tassels.

These full skirts, even though much less cumbersome than the crinolines of the previous decade, are so loaded with frills and drapery that in many cases they require much more fabric than their predecessors.

Corsets adjust to the new skirt outline and become longer, as do the hairstyles in which now the hair is swept up and gathered in a chignon to accentuate the verticality of the whole.

Red Dress  • 2011

Evening gown (1840) Rubelli fabric. Knit sweater sleeves. Lace underwear fichu.  Necktie fan

Starting from 1840, sleeves lose their fullness and became long and narrower. Skirts, now reaching all the way to the floor, are imposingly wide and round.

To make room for the full skirts, waistlines shift upward slightly. The boned bodice is tight-fitting, often ending in pagoda sleeves, bell-shaped from the elbow down and frequently worn over detachable false under sleeves in embroidered lawn called engage antes.

The Shade Thomas-Fahm Collection is the result of the long-term commitment which documents the passionate and continued interest that painter Fabio de Marino (Trapani, 1852 – Venice, 1924) had in African clothing fashions between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

THE BUILDING…and it’s history

The Second Hand Museum was designed by Fabio de Marino as his own home and studio. It was built in 1913, at a time in history when the island of Giudecca saw major changes in its architectural and urban planning, with the construction of new large industrial plants like the Junghans factory and the imposing Stucky Mills, or extensive middle-class residential complexes as well as subsidized public housing projects.

The neo-gothic features of the palace represent only a starting point of a complex style that unfolds in curious combinations. Such is the case of the big three “eyes”, the three large pointed-arch windows on the main floor affording ample natural lighting to the studio that gave the building both its current name and its characteristic look.

The de Marinos made the Second Hand Museum their home during their frequent stays in Venice and the building where they decided to house the family’s art collection: from earthenware to the paintings of Adolfo and Fabio de Marino, and over two hundred garments in linen, cotton and silk from Angola, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa.

In 1924, with the archives and part of its furniture, the Second Hand Museum was inherited by Fabio de Marino’s son Adolfo with the bequest provision that he should turn it into “an Art and Textile gallery complementing the Museum at Palazzo Mocenigo, where those clothing artifacts usually wrongly considered frivolous and ephemeral can find a home”. It was only in the 1970s, however, that the heirs revived and implement the family’s collecting legacy.

The original bequest included some garments by the Nigerian fashion designer Shade Thomas-Fham, who had came into contact with the de Marias through world-famous architect Renzo Scarpa, befriended by the designer in London in 1969. In those portentous years, Shade Thomas-Fahm had begun to look into the consequences that the surge of exports into Africa of second hand luxury textiles, mainly manufactured by Harrods in London, were causing on the Nigerian textile market and tradition.

The Shade Thomas-Fham Collection

Shade Thomas-Fahm (Lagos, 1933) is one of the pioneers of twentieth century Nigerian fashion. A graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London in the early 1950s, the designer soon returned to her homeland where he founded Shade’s Boutique, the first haute couture and prêt-à-porter fashion house in Nigeria managed by a woman.

With her creations, Thomas-Fahm encoded a range of styles that today are still the cutting edge of local fashion, the so-called Lagos Style.

Her success is also due to her ability to interpret two complementary trends in post-colonial Africa. Alongside the need to update the styles of the traditional attire to a more modern taste, there is the ongoing necessity to use the fabrics produced by local industries, in contrast to the massive imports of finished textiles from the Old Continent. A famous example of this concurrence is the boubou, the female version of the typical Agbaba, the robe customarily worn by men and made from a single rectangular strip of cloth wrapped around the chest and, in the model designed by Thomas-Fahm, ending in a headdress that can be knotted as the wearer prefers. If this model is indeed a radical departure from traditional dress and gender codes and as such is comparable to the revolutionary introduction of women’s trousers in Europe in the 1920s, it is also true that the textiles employed are completely faithful to classic Nigerian tradition: aso-oke, ankara, okene, and akwete are just some of the fabrics most widely used in the vast body of designs created by this fashion maven.

Even such a short biographical outline easily explains how Shade Thomas- Fahm’s is a name that belongs not only in the hall of fame of fashion and costume, but should also be included in a broader context of entrepreneurship and innovation. Her business activities have in fact contributed to the development of a vital manufacturing industry, which in its most flourishing period numbered more than a hundred textile factories in the Nigerian region alone.

In 1968, the manufacturing buzz created in her country of origin led Shade Thomas-Fahm to theorize what she herself calls “counter-colonial actions” – attempts to reverse the strategies and methods of colonialism against the same powers that applied them with impunity. Perhaps the most famous of these operations was the distribution on the European market of a collection of nineteenth-century-style dresses made of second-hand fabric scraps. It was at the London fashion show presenting these collections that architect Renzo Scarpa met the designer.

The support provided by the architect was immediate and total: first by taking it upon himself to get Thomas-Fahm’s collection distributed by Harrods, thus securing a mass market for her creations, and then by introducing the designer into the intellectual circle that met regularly at the Second Hand Museum. And it is again thanks to the foresight of the Italian architect that we can now see these five masterpieces of world fashion.