British American author Frances Hodgson Burnett modelled the look sported by the small hero of her 1886 book Little Lord Fauntleroy on her own son Vivian [1].

Essentially a rags-to-riches tale, Hodgson Burnett used luxury materials like silk, velvet and lace to connote ideas of nobility for the story’s hero Cedric Errol [1]. However the look itself is only briefly described in Hodgson Burnett’s book and its proliferation as a style is due more to the accompanying illustrations by Reginald Birch.

Reginald Birch’s illustration of Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/Birch_Little_Lord_Fauntleroy_add_Titre.png

Reginald Birch’s illustration of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/Birch_Little_Lord_Fauntleroy_add_Titre.png

Birch drew from the past, specifically appropriating signifiers of status and wealth through materiality from Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (c. 1770) [1]. Gainsborough himself mined the depths of art history in turn drawing reference from Anthony Van Dyck’s 17th century Portrait of Charles Lord Strange [2].

Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s Portrait of Charles, Lord Strange, later 8th Earl of Derby (1628-72). Image source: http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_281886/Sir-Anthony-Van-Dyck/Portrait-of-Charles,-Lord-Strange,-later-8th-Earl-of-Derby-(1628-72)

Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s Portrait of Charles, Lord Strange, later 8th Earl of Derby (1628-72). Image source: http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_281886/Sir-Anthony-Van-Dyck/Portrait-of-Charles,-Lord-Strange,-later-8th-Earl-of-Derby-(1628-72)

Despite being widely recreated by Mother’s across America the Little Lord Fauntleroy look was met with hostility. Katherine L. Carlson has documented critical reactions from the time identifying this perceived feminisation of boys by their Mother’s was believed to be an affront to the future of manhood in America. Documented criticism centred on rejecting the curls and garb based on their relationship to British nobility and class system, concepts that were unpalatable to the independent and democratic American national identity. Boyhood was a contested zone with social themes of the romanticised child and national identity riding upon it [1].

The romance of childhood explored in Little Lord Fauntleroy provided inspiration for Australian art-fashion label Romance Was Born (RWB) in 2013 [3]. Known for collaborating with Australian artists, RWB worked with Sydney artist Phil James to create a signature print for the collection [4]. James, an artist known for his appropriation and adaptation of art history and kitsch prints, updates the Fauntleroy look by applying KISS inspired makeup and high top sneakers to the regal youth in Gainsborough’s original.

“Untitled” Phillip James. Image source: http://www.yellowtrace.com.au/sydney-artist-philjames/

“Untitled” Phillip James. Image source: http://www.yellowtrace.com.au/sydney-artist-philjames/

These images linked by their intertextuality and appropriation provide an interesting comparison to gender norms themselves the product of absorption and repetition.

In creating their 2013 collection, RWB play with gender conventions, appropriating the cut and details of the Lord Fauntleroy suit and adapting it to dresses and blouses across the range.

While this collection focuses on the whimsy and romance of childhood, I believe the continued re-adaptation of the Lord Fauntleroy suit maintains its relevancy as a site of contestation of gender norms and ideals.

References:

[1] Carlson, Katherine L. 2010; 2009. Little Lord Fauntleroy and the Evolution of American Boyhood. The Journal of the History Of Childhood and Youth 3, (1): 39-64

[2] Mental Floss. 2015. 15 Things You Might Not Know About ‘The Blue Boy. Last modified:25 August 2015. Accessed: 22 September 2015. URL: http://mentalfloss.com/article/67427/15-things-you-might-not-know-about-blue-boy

[3] Romance Was Born. Collections: Lil Lord Fauntleroy Collection 1 2013. Accessed: 22 September 2015. URL: http://romancewasborn.com/collections/lil-lord-fauntleroy

 [4] Yellow Trace. 2013. Little Trace Of // Sydney Artist Philjames. Last modified 20 March 2013. Accessed: 22 September 2015. URL: http://www.yellowtrace.com.au/sydney-artist-philjames/

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