The first book of fashion…

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Schwarz depicted with his employee Jacob Fugger on left, and in an elaborate red and yellow slashed silk outfit. A recreation of this outfit was done by a costumer and is shown in a film on the BBC link at the bottom of this blog.

In 1520, 23 year old Matthaeus Schwarz began a record of his fashionable life. He started commissioning watercolour paintings of himself wearing his latest clothes. For forty years he kept a record of his fashions while he worked as the head accountant for the wealthy merchant and banking Fugger family of Augsburg, Germany.

His well-paid position afforded Schwarz the luxury of his habit for looking good. Starting with an initial commission of 36 pictures to cover a retrospective of his early life to age 23, Schwarz would ultimately have 137 watercolour portraits done of himself, painted by three different artists. When he turned 63 he had the pages bound into a volume, but continued to have portraits done until he was 67 years old.

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The outfit on the left depicts Schwarz wearing a doublet with a remarakble 4,800 tiny snips or ‘pinks’ in the fabric, and on right in four types of mourning dress following his father’s death.

As a member of the emerging middle class Schwarz had the money to dress well but not necessarily the right to wear whatever he chose. He was bound by social conventions and sumptuary laws that forbid certain luxuries or extravagances to those not of noble birth. However, in the typical pursuit of fashion, when something is suppressed something else blossoms to excess elsewhere in the outfit, and Schwarz’ cutting-edge outfits rarely show restraint.

Schwarz married at the age of 41, and although he tried to convince his son to carry on the project, the fashionable pursuit eventually ended, leaving a legacy of the first known ongoing period account of fashion. Schwarz died at the age of 77 and the fashion book was handed down through the family for generations. The book is now kept in a small museum in Braunschweig, Germany. For more information about this remarkable document and a video of one of his pieces being recreated and worn, check out this link.

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