Exhibition File – Walter Van Birendonck

A couple of weeks ago I heard him speak in Chicago, and now Walter Van Birendonck is the focus of a recently opened exhibition at Dallas Contemporary. The show, Walter Van Birendonck: Lust Never Sleeps – Silent Secrets, is an art installation of his winter 2012/2013 and summer 2013 fashion collections.

Van Birendonck is an avant-garde menswear designer. He hails from Belgian, and is known as one of the Antwerp Six, a group of desigerns who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp during the 1980s.

In the show, the two most recent collections are installed in an open gallery on round, white platforms. Van Birendonck’s winter 2012/2013 collection called Lust Never Sleeps was inspired by Tahitian voodoo. In an interview with Fashionista, Van Birendonck described the collection saying,”I wanted to create a future dandy silhouette almost, but with a very strong tension. That’s why I was using these masks inspired by Papua New Guinea and the canes — a lot of elements to create a tense atmosphere.”

The summer 2013 collection, which is currently in stores, refers “to what’s going on the social networks today, that everything is so easily spread and there is no privacy anymore. Images are taken from everybody, they are sent immediately, also you can’t keep anything secret anymore.” Van Birendonck went on to add, “It’s also referring to secret societies — their dress codes and the hidden underground feeling of secret societies. The collection from summer is also formal inspired, like formal clothing with a twist and with my typical ingredients.”

Walter Van Birendonck: Lust Never Sleeps – Silent Secrets runs until August 18.

Address: Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass Street, Dallas, Texas
Hours: Tuesday- Saturday 11-6, Sunday 12-5
Admission: free
Website: dallascontemporary.org/currentexhibit.html

Dissecting Interesting

Rei Kawakubo, photo by WWD

Yesterday Women’s Wear Daily published an interview with Rei Kawakubo, designer for Comme des Garçon. She founded the house in 1969. Kawakubo is a Japanese designer with the mind for invention and the avant-garde.

The interview has been bouncing around in my mind since I first read it, and I felt like it might be worth discussing here a bit. I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me! Please go read the article, if you haven’t already, and then come back.

There are a few lines in Kawakubo’s succinct responses that stuck out to me, but maybe none more than, “I think the media has some responsibility to bear for people becoming more conservative. Many parts of the media have created the situation where uninteresting fashion can thrive.”

As someone part of the media (thanks blog), it made me think about what I present and if I’m part of the problem that Kawakubo sees. I would agree that there is a lack of criticism in the blog world, which probably leads to a lot of “uninteresting” fashion being propped up. Elsewhere, particular magazines are loyal to their favorite designers regardless of what they show each season. It’s rare for Hollywood to take a fashion risk.

But what is interesting? I assume that Kawakubo thinks it means things that have never been done before. As she also said in the interview, “I was only trying to make something completely new” when referring to her most recent collection. Kawakubo’s work is avant-garde, which is attention grabbing and makes you think, regardless if you like it or not.

Interesting can be unusual, different, odd. Those are easily attention-catching characteristics. But it can also be more subtle. Interesting fashion can be found in the details, like a piece by Ralph Rucci, who is famous for jam packing tons of intricacy in the tiniest of details of a piece.

I think interesting can be found in the mass-market fashion industry, but it is rare. Well-made clothes can be called interesting. A clever print, a seldom-used color, and a silhouette that enhances or edits the body can all be interesting. But Kawakubo is on to something about newness. Popular trends quickly fade out of the realm of interesting when they begin to reach market saturation. They aren’t new anymore, and therefore don’t peak curiosity.

Fashion and its carnivorous nature means tried and true looks keep coming back. They sell, so the industry is eager to put out what it knows it will make money on. And maybe this isn’t entirely bad, but it does mean that a person who has been in the fashion industry for more than 40 years can get bored quickly by seeing the same things over and over and over again. I can’t blame Kawakubo for her sharp remark.

So what do you think? Must “interesting” fashion contain a level of newness? What does that word mean to you? And what can the media do to stop perpetuating “uninteresting” fashion?

Mixing Whimsy and the Avant-Garde

Iris Apfel is just the best. You must check out this shoot featuring her in Dazed Digital.

Wearing avant-garde Comme des Garçons from autumn/winter 2012, she brings whimsy and humor to this shoot. I love that she doesn’t take fashion too seriously. More people should embrace her take on dressing.

If you need some cheering, these photos shot by Jeff Bark should do the ticket.

First Looks of Maison Martin Margiela for H&M

I’ve been waiting on the edge of my seat since they announced the Maison Martin Margiela and H&M collaboration. And now the first lookbook has been released. Bless my heart, it looks good. Really good.

These four are my favorites. I’m digging the asymmetry, the deconstruction, and the oversized silhouettes. Fingers crossed these look as good in person as they do in photographs.

Can’t wait until they hit stores November 15. Maybe I should take the morning off of work.

If you haven’t seen the whole lookbook yet, zip on over to Refinery29.

Exhibition File – Dance Works III

In 1997, two avant-garde artists — Merce Cunningham and Rei Kawakubo — collaborated on the dance Scenario. Cunningham, a modern dance master, choreographed the piece, while Kawakubo, who designs the conceptual fashion line Comme des Garçon, had free reign to create the costumes and stage design.

A new exhibition at the Walker Art Center examines this collaboration. The show, called Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham / Rei Kawakubo, contains Kawakubo’s costumes, rehearsal and performance photographs, interviews with dancers, runway footage, and the original electronic score.

The opportunity to study how these two artists worked together sounds incredible. Don’t miss this show if you are near Minneapolis! It closes March 24, 2013.

Address: 1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 11-5, Thursday 11-9, Friday-Sunday 11-5
Admission: adults $10, seniors $8, students $6, children and members free
Website: www.walkerart.org/calendar/2012/dance-works-iii-merce-cunningham-rei-kawakubo#

Bike Week – Historic Bicycle Fashion

Women on bicycles, 1898 from Victoria and Albert Museum

Today, Bike Week continues with a look at historic bicycle fashion. But first, I want to welcome any new readers who have come over from The Vintage Traveler. Hello!

I met Lizzie, who blogs at The Vintage Traveler, in Atlanta at the Costume Society of America symposium. I’m guest blogging on her site today, and Lizzie will be appearing here next Monday. I’m sharing what it’s like to be a historic costume collection manager on The Vintage Traveler. Please check it out.

And now, back to Bike Week!

Bicycling was a growing trend in the 1890s. According to the Survey of Historic Costume, by 1896, 10 million Americans were cycling.

The craze for bicycles was part of an upswing in women’s activity in sports, along with tennis, golf, crew, baseball, and basketball. But for the most part, women’s sports made due with few alterations to women’s clothing.

Bicycles presented more challenges to Victorian women’s wardrobes. At this time a woman wore many layers — a pair of drawers, a chemise or combination directly next to the body, then a corset, a camisole on top, and one or two petticoats. That was just the undergarments!

Then there was a dress or bodice/shirtwaist and skirt. The silhouette of women’s clothing in the 1890s was hourglass shaped.

With long, bell-shaped skirts, riding a bike was not the easiest feat. To accommodate straddling a bike, some changes needed to be made. And so the bicycle suit was born.

According to Cynthia Cooper in The Fashion Reader, the avant-garde bicycle suit was “based on the tailor-made suit, these cycling outfits had fitted jackets and the first accepted form of trousers for women, which covered the knee. A skirt may nonetheless have hidden these trousers.”

Jacket and Bloomers, c. 1895 from Kyoto Costume Institute, photo by Takashi Hatakeyama

Many women’s bloomers were so full that they passed as skirts when a lady wasn’t riding. In the example above from the Kyoto Costume Institute, the bloomers have so much volume that a passerby might not notice at a glance that they are actually not a skirt.

Not all women wore bicycle trousers. Most women made do with jackets or shirtwaists, a type of fitted blouse with varying degree of lace and ruffles, and simple skirts. Some skirts were a bit shorter than a typical daytime skirt to accommodate swinging the leg over the bike’s frame. Others were bifurcated in the rear as to allow more range of motion and prevent the skirt from getting caught in the chain or spokes of the rear tire.

Below is an example of a bifurcated skirt from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Note that from the front it looks like a regular skirt, but from behind the division into separate pant legs is evident.

Suit, Cycling, 1896 from Metropolitan Museum of Art

In both the images above, women pose for photographers in studio settings. These photographs allow us to note the detail of the rear wheel. You can see that these women have not chosen to modify their dress. Instead they have wheel cages to prevent their skirts from getting caught in the spokes.

Biking continued to gain popularity, giving women more freedom to travel short distances without the accompaniment of a man and normalizing less restrictive dress practices. About 30 years separate the image above with the image below, but the fashions have changed considerably. It may not seem radical to us now, but in a short period of time, the bicycle helped usher pants into the modern woman’s wardrobe.

Egle Cekanaviciute’s Deconstructed Fashion

photo by Egle Xiapin, courtesy of Egle Cekanaviciute

When I saw Egle Cekanaviciute‘s work on Design For Mankind, I had to know more about her and her designs.

It turns out that clothing construction runs deep in Egle’s blood. She comes from a family of tailors; she is part of the fourth generation whose work and interests revolve around clothes. Originally from Lithuania, Egle studied fashion at Vilnius Academy of Arts, then enrolled in Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. She has worked at Dior, and now is an assistant womenswear designer for Maison Martin Margiela.

Egle considers herself a fashion designer who has a strong interest in global politics. “Global issues motivate my work, as well as the passion for creating beautiful shapes that style the human body. I try to speak to the world through my clothes, they are the message-carriers,” she told me.

photos by Egle Xiapin, courtesy of Egle Cekanaviciute

Her 2011 collection shown here, called Seed, started because she wanted to address the superficiality of fashion and that nature is almighty. “The crack in the pavement with grass shooting through was my first point of inspiration towards this idea,” she wrote.

photo by Egle Xiapin, courtesy of Egle Cekanaviciute

Seed is a six-piece collection utilizing minimalistic silhouettes. Egle used organic and raw fabrics, such as potato sacks and tailoring canvas. By deconstructing sleeves, shoulders, pant pockets, or other elements of a garment, Egle created garments that function as planters.

photos by Egle Xiapin, courtesy of Egle Cekanaviciute

I am fascinated with Egle’s work. She has a strong aesthetic and her designs feature compelling themes. To me, Seed evokes futurism with an organic quality. Egle is, without a doubt, one to watch.

Rodarte on Stage

The Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte are trying their hand at costume design again, this time on the stage. Kate and Laura Mulleavy designed costumes for Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni performed by the L.A. Philharmonic. The show opens May 18 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and features 20 costumes by the duo, including gowns and menswear.

This project comes after the controversy that surrounded credits for the film Black Swan. Kate and Laura created seven ballet costumes for the movie. After the release of Black Swan, reports about how many costumes they actually designed were exaggerated, and head costume designer Amy Wescott was vilified by the fashion media and in quotes from Kate and Laura. It was disappointing to read the contrived drama about what should have been a successful and celebrated collaboration. Hopefully this time around there won’t be any controversy as the Mulleavy sisters don’t have to share credit for their costume designs for the opera.

I have mixed feelings about Rodarte. The sisters’ designs have evolved toward sophistication, and their construction techniques have improved over time. They have an avant-garde aesthetic. They find inspiration and beauty everywhere, especially in untraditional places. This has gotten the Mulleavys into trouble in the past though — a beauty collaboration with MAC based on Mexico’s colors and culture was called “tasteless,” and their fall 2012 collection was accused of being offensive and insensitive because of its appropriation of Australian aboriginal designs. There is a long traditional of avant-garde fashion designers working in costume design on the stage, so it’s nice to see Rodarte carrying on that torch.

No matter what the Mulleavy sisters do in the future, I’m sure they will stay in the headlines.

Not Your Average Ballet

I am swooning hard over the avant-garde costumes designed by Gareth Pugh for the ballet production Carbon Life.

The ballet premiered last week at the Royal Opera House in London. It was choreographed by Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet, and scored by Mark Ronson.

I really wish I could see this creation. Oh fairy god mother, plane tickets to London please?