Friday File

This was a busy week because the students are back on campus. Spring semester started, and despite the cold, we plunged right ahead with regularly scheduled classes aside from Monday night. I’m excited to get back into the groove of class visits to the fashion collection and storage upgrade projects. But I will miss the quiet days of spending time by myself in the collection.

In a couple weeks, I’m hosting an event featuring lingerie from the collection, and I’m having a good time discovering some very beautiful and feminine pieces in it. You can see a lovely detail of a nightgown from the 1920s I’m planning to include below.

Here are this week’s links:

This great post on Unmaking Things shows us how one could take a new perspective on museum artifacts that are never on display.

There’s a Marie Antoinette Diet? Is it crazy to want to try it?

I love this essay from a Washington Post journalist on his love of figure skating despite being an untraditional fan.

Did you know that designers leave show notes on the audience’s seats during a fashion show? I have never seen any in person, but Erin Hazelton transcribed Maison Martin Margiela’s most recent couture show notes. When I read that the first two looks contained scraps of Mariano Fortuny fabric, I got really excited.

New Fashion One-Oh-One Post

Sorry for my silence, but I’ve got something to share. My second Fashion One-Oh-One post on Raincoast Creative Salon is up today! Go on and read about Fortuny and his Delphos gown.

Riccardo Tisci Costumes a Ballet in Lace and Tulle

I am dying over these images of Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci’s costumes for the ballet Boléro. The design recently released to the media shows a unisex ballet costume that blurs traditional gender norms.

The ballet costume consists of a skin-tone cat suit embroidered with white lace in the design of a human skeleton and a dress of nude tulle over top. The costumes are supposed to capture both darkness and romanticism.

In Women’s Wear Daily, Tisci said, “Boléro is all about intensity. The music has such an intense feeling. I wanted the dancers to feel naked somehow. They shed several layers as they dance just like the life cycle of animals, or flowers losing their petals. They become these moving skeletons, strong and fragile at the same time.”

Boléro was choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet for Opéra Garnier in Paris. The artist Marina Abramovic designed the black and suspended mirror panel set and scenography. It runs until June 3.

Exhibition File – New at the Museum of Chinese in America

The Museum of Chinese in America opens two exhibitions tomorrow that add to the dialogue on modern fashion. Both focus on Chinese or Chinese Americans and their relationships to fashion and dress, which are often overlooked in the broader discussion.

Front Row: Chinese American Designers graphic, from Museum of Chinese in America

First, Front Row: Chinese American Designers “features the unique visions of 16 designers” in an exhibition curated by guest curator Mary Ping. It looks at social and cultural forces that gave rise to Chinese American designers in New York. The show explores two waves, the first in the 1980s, which included Anna Sui, Vera Wang, and Vivienne Tam, and a second, recent one that includes Derek Lam and Phillip Lim. Of note are the range of aesthetics and entrepreneurial paths in this group. It will be interesting to see the breadth of differences between these designers despite their common background.

Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s exhibition graphic, from Museum of Chinese in America

The second show is Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s exploring fashion, women, and the city’s identity during the early 20th century. The way women dressed during this period was emblematic of modern life — changing social, political, and gender roles were revealed. This exhibition was guest curated by Mei Mei Rado.

Both exhibitions run until September 29.

And don’t miss Eric Wilson’s Front Row column in the New York Times this week. He highlights both shows.

Address: Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street, New York, New York
Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 11-6, Thursday 11-9, Friday-Sunday 11-6
Admission: adults $10, seniors and students $5, members and children under 12 free
Website: mocanyc.org/exhibitions/upcoming_exhibits/front_row_chinese_american_designers + mocanyc.org/exhibitions/upcoming_exhibits/shanghai_glamour

Friday File – Needing a Break

This week has been tough for the whole country, and so much tragedy takes a real toll. We need a respite from the news. There’s nothing I can say that can magically erase everything that has happened this week, but I am hoping things can turn around for all of us soon. Stay safe.

Some links from this week that can hopefully bring you a little break:

folding lamp by Issey Miyake, from Architizer Blog

Of course Issey Miyake created folding lamps made of recycled plastic. The man’s 2D to 3D-design concept cannot be contained to fashion.

I can’t believe the word fashionista has only been around for 20 years! Writer Stephen Fried coined the term in a biography of the model Gia Carangi. He was looking for a term that quickly referred to all the types of people who work in the fashion industry because he was sick of spelling out all their roles.

This article on the eight hour workday and modern capitalism really struck a chord with me. This theory that our work/life balance was designed so that we would be the ideal consumers is both disturbing and fascinating. It’s made me feel a lot more conscious of how I’m spending my spare time and my money since I read it.

Most of the time I wish they would just let old fashion design houses alone. There are too many revivals. Let the designers’ legacies stand, and don’t taint them by hiring a new designer to attempt to fill their shoes.

This is exactly how I’ve felt since it was announced that the house of Schiaparelli was going to be relaunched. Schiaparelli was an artist and extremely unique. I couldn’t imagine anyone reworking her designs and having anywhere near the same impact. But two days ago word came out that Christian Lacroix is going to design an haute couture collection for Schiaparelli. You know, I think that could actually work!

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?

Another Revival

Last week there was another announcement about the revival of a shuttered fashion house. More than 25 years after Rudi Gernreich’s death, a German entrepreneur has secured the trademark rights to his brand, according to Women’s Wear Daily. The brand will be called Gernreich, and there are plans for a runway show in 2014.

Gernreich was a designer in the 1960s and 1970s, and most known for his revealing swimwear — the monokini exposed a woman’s breasts. He experimented with plastics and other nontraditional materials to create fashionable designs that influenced pop art.

I wonder what direction a fashion house bearing the Gernreich name will take. It seems practically unauthentic to have any designer but Gernreich himself leading the company in experimentation. Will the new designer continue to experiment and pick up where Gernreich left off? Is there any more of the body that has yet to be bared by fashion designers? Or will this project be purely commercial in nature, treading on the reputation Gernreich built?

It seems like no fashion house is sacred or safe. Earlier this year we learned that Schiaparelli will be revived, although no word on who the head designer will be.

Elsa Schiaparelli was a designer who worked from the late 1920s to 1954. She was heavily influenced by Surrealism and was one of the most prominent designers between the two world wars.

Again, I wonder if Surrealism will influence the new designer at the helm? How will a contemporary designer ever fill Schiaparelli’s esteemed shoes?

And have you heard there is trouble brewing at Vionnet? The brand that was relaunched in 2006 has had a revolving door of designers. The latest ladies in charge of the brand — created in 1912 by Madeleine Vionnet, “queen of the bias cut” — are designers Barbara and Lucia Croce, but are rumored to be on their way out. The spring 2013 show will go on as scheduled but is said to be designed by an in-house team, not the Croce sisters, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

I often think it would be better to leave the houses of deceased designers alone. Let the legacy of those designers stand, without tampering with them long after the houses have closed. It seems disrespectful to the legendary designers to use their names as commercial trademarks.

And there are hundreds of smart, young designers out there who would give just about anything to have a collection under their own name. Financial backers should support those designers with eponymous lines instead of depending on the names of historic fashion designers. It’s time to create some forward progress in the fashion industry.