Dhe blaze of color and variety of the exhibits in the exhibition at the German Leather Museum in Offenbach come as a surprise, because everything revolves around items of clothing that you don’t normally pay too much attention to. Due to the corona pandemic, however, the garments that have gone out of fashion have unexpectedly received new attention: gloves.
The gloves of the pandemic were disposable gloves made of latex or rubber to avoid contagion. However, Inez Florschütz, the director of the German Leather Museum, suspects that the desire for protection remained – and that heralded the comeback of gloves on the international catwalks. The fashion designers’ renewed interest prompted them to take a closer look at the gloves in their house’s collection. The result is now presented in the exhibition “The glove – more than a fashion accessory” with more than 90 exhibits from the 17th century to the present.
Close connection between man and glove
Even if it may come as a surprise that no exhibition has addressed the topic of gloves for decades, as Florschütz puts it: The item of clothing has often appeared in art, in film and in literature, be it in Schiller’s ballad of the same name or Max Klinger’s drawings about the discovery of a glove, Manet’s oil painting of the gloved “Jeanne” or in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, in which Audrey Hepburn wears her black gloves with a cocktail dress incomparably elegantly: the show provides many examples.
They prove how closely people were connected to their gloves, that the items of clothing had very different meanings over the centuries and were therefore made of different materials such as wool, leather, silk and plastic. The show begins with a presentation of the three different basic forms of gloves, gloves, fists and half-fingers.
Finger gloves were already a luxury in ancient Egypt because of their more complex workmanship. In medieval Europe, the glove became the official symbol of ecclesiastical dignitaries. Embroidered silk pontifical gloves from Rome, probably from the 18th century, testify to the authority of their wearer. Since the coronation of Frederick II as Holy Roman Emperor in 1220, according to the exhibition catalogue, gloves lavishly set with precious stones became part of the coronation regalia and the imperial insignia. To this day gloves, albeit simpler ones, are worn in public by members of the royal houses: Queen Elizabeth II of England could hardly be imagined without a hat and gloves.
Learning about the wearers of the gloves
Gloves for the dress and costume guarantee a presentation that is coordinated down to the last detail. It is therefore not surprising that gloves have played a role in fashion for hundreds of years. There are several examples of this in the show – from delicate to shrill: such as the light-colored gloves from the Maurice Vallet company from the beginning of the 20th century, whose cuffs are elaborately embroidered. Like the Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton gloves made of tulle and lambskin. Or the so-called opera gloves, fine evening gloves made of leather, velvet or silk that reach up to the upper arm and are worn again today with sleeveless dresses: a pair of printed stretch gloves from the 2021/22 winter collection by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten to see Jersey.
Looking at the exhibits, you always learn something about the time and the wearers: for example, that women around the turn of the century squeezed into the narrow gloves made of wool yarn, which they could also wear at home like a second skin because they did not work with their hands . This can be impressively demonstrated using an ivory glove stretcher from 1920/30. The 16th and 17th centuries were also used for the scented gloves, which were supposed to cover body odors with aromas such as jasmine, carnation, amber or orange blossom and whose disinfecting effect was believed to have.
To this day associated with a lot of manual work
Gloves to protect against the weather or dangerous work are an ancient tool that began with simply wrapping the hands, probably as far back as the Stone Age. The oldest exhibit in the show is a pair of elk leather gloves from the 17th century. But the oldest known gloves are said to be those of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, who wore finger gloves. Since the 15th century there have also been fingerless gloves, known from Karl Lagerfeld. It is a good example of how much the glove and the wearer can grow together, so much so that the garment stands for the wearer. Opponents threw the glove at each other’s feet as an invitation to a duel, ladies lent it to their loved ones as collateral. The fact that most of the pieces featured in the show have been worn makes it even more interesting.
The glove designs by accessory design students at Pforzheim University, to which a separate room is dedicated, point to the future. The fact that the manufacture of gloves still requires a great deal of manual work is indicated by their individual designs, as well as the stamped calibres, scissors and pieces of leather shown in the show, a film about the production and the recordings of a glove factory in the 1930s. Only a few still master the old handicraft, as can be seen: Since 2011, the glovemaker has no longer been a recognized training occupation in Germany.
■ The glove. More than a fashion accessory Until July 30, 2023, Deutsches Ledermuseum Offenbach, Frankfurter Straße 86, Wednesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., on the second Thursday of the month until 8 p.m.