MLK Day, Art Institute, and Stephen Sprouse

Cocktail, by Gerald Murphy, 1927, from Whitney Museum of American Art, via artnet Magazine

Yesterday, most of the USA was off for MLK Jr. Day, and I along with them. I spent the afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago, mostly looking at the exhibition Art & Appetite, which was an interesting exploration of American artwork with a food theme. My favorite pieces in it were created during the 1920s and 30s. I particularly enjoyed seeing Cocktail, by Gerald Murphy, an artist who I’ve read a lot about in the Hemingway biographies and who was a character reference for F. Scott Fitzgerald in his novel Tender is the Night. Art & Appetite closes next week on January 27.

Louis Vuitton handbags and luggage featuring Stephen Sprouse graffiti print, photographed by Raymond Meier for Vogue, January 2001

But the rest of the world went on with business as usual yesterday, and Raincoast Creative Salon ran my last post for my Fashion One-Oh-One column. This time I focused on graffiti in fashion, initiated by the designer Stephen Sprouse. Head over and read all about graffiti in fashion!

I had a blast writing the six-part column for Sandra of Raincoast, and really appreciate her invitation to write for her blog throughout the last four months. If you missed any of my Fashion One-Oh-One posts on Raincoast Creative Salon, here they all are:
The Wedding Dress
Elsa Schiaparelli
Christian Dior’s New Look
The Paper Dress
Stephen Sprouse Graffiti Dress

2013 Gift Guide – Fashion History Books

My next holiday gift post is for any budding fashion historians or vintage fashion collectors. I’ve got some books that will be excellent additions to a personal library.

These first three books are great reference books. If you know someone who wants to learn more about fashion history, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Fashion: A History From the 18th to the 20 Century from the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute is a gorgeous book. The pages are filled with full color photographs that bleed off the page of some of the finest clothes that were ever created. The pieces featured are the height of fashion through three centuries.

The next book, 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion by Harriet Worsley, chronicles fashion history through specific aesthetic influences, movements, designers, events, technology improvements, and more. Each spread is a snap shot on a limited topic that impacted fashion. These snippets are fascinating.

Fashion: A Visual History from Regency and Romance to Retro and Revolution by NJ Stevenson, is set up as a chronological timeline that looks at women’s and men’s style from period to period, major designers, and innovations in types of garments. Again, broken up into spreads, it covers a lot of ground to give a well-rounded picture of changing Western fashion.

Moving on the collecting side of fashion history, these next two books are great for anyone who dreams of assembling their own collection.

Your Vintage Keepsake: A CSA Guide to Costume Storage and Display by Margaret T. Ordonez introduces the reader to the basic aspects of caring for historic fashion. He/she will learn the foundations to caring for and displaying clothing.

If your giftee wants to get serious about collecting fashion or textiles, Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist by Harold F. Mailand and Dorothy Stites Alig takes things up a notch. This book covers more technical aspects of collection management and exhibition. I highly recommend this guide.

P.S. More gift ideas on my Pinterest board!

Holly and ivy graphic by MyCuteGraphics.

Thoughts at the Beginning of NYFW

It’s officially New York Fashion Week, and my social media is blowing up. In some respects I enjoy that there is so much coverage now, but I miss the days when content was edited before going online. The competitive spirit to post the designer collections before the next outlet shouldn’t drive reporters and editors to put up shoddy pictures and videos, clogging social media newsfeeds. That’s just my two cents.

New York Fashion Week has turned into a spectacle. In the past few years, the event’s focus has grown to include parties and shopping events, attendees (or wannabes), drama, and social media, that it’s not much of an industry preview anymore. It’s a global event, which is not entirely a bad thing. I like being able to get instant coverage of the collections from the comfort of home without a subscription to a pricey service. I attempt to tune out the extraneous.

The past few Fashion Weeks have seen such a backlash against bloggers and street style photography, so I’m curious to see what will happen this year. Will the circus environment that has been building finally subside, or will this year’s be the same or worse? At least where I sit, it seems a little more reserved than the recent past, but perhaps that is because I’ve tailored my online habits to avoid seeing the most annoying and ostentatious coverage. Although it is disconcerting to read so many editors, including Cathy Horn, lamenting gearing up to cover Fashion Week because of what it has turned into.

There is one bit of news that I’m really excited about — yesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the next Costume Institute exhibition will be “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.” James, the “Architect of Fashion” is known as one of the only American couturiers. He was a designer with incredible vision who built, yes built, some of the most incredible ballgowns the world has seen. He began his career as a milliner in Chicago and rose to the top, designing couture for the most elite women in the world. Unfortunately ego and bad financial strategy were his undoing.

In grad school, I had the opportunity to de-install an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum featuring two James dresses, and I’ll never forget the complexity of those dresses when we took them off their mannequins. They could have stood up on their own without a body supporting them — that’s how structured each gown was. Amazing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Met handles James’ designs, career, and life. There is so much territory to explore, so I do hope that the exhibition delivers more than a spectacle of pretty dresses. I hope we learn how complex the dresses’ understructures were, how he evolved as a designer, and a bit about his life and relationships with clients, friends, family, and fellow designers.

What do you think about the future Charles James exhibition at the Met? And are you following any NYFW coverage or blocking it all out for the next week?

Exhibition File – Fandemonium

brisé fan, probably American, 1910s, from Kent State University Museum

The heat is back, at least in Chicago. So it seems appropriate to feature this week’s exhibition, Fandemonium at Kent State University Museum. Fans are more than just functional, of course. They take on many shapes and styles, elevated with various ornamentation. You’ll get to see 50 fans from three centuries in this show. There are some real stunners in it.

Fandemonium runs until October 6.

Address: Kent State University Museum, 515 Hilltop Drive, Kent, Ohio
Hours: Wednesday 10-4:45, Thursday 10-8:45, Friday-Saturday 10-4:45, Sunday 12-4:45
Admission: adults $5; seniors $4; students and children $3; KSU students, staff, and faculty and children under 7 free, any Sunday admission free

Also, check out this lovely virtual tour for Fandemonium.

Exhibition File – Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, from Art Institute of Chicago via The Culture Concept Circle

So it’s really the summer of fashion exhibitions in Chicago. I hope you’ve heard about the show Impression, Fashion, and Modernity. Conceived in Chicago by Art Institute of Chicago curator Gloria Groom, the show first traveled to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and now finally it takes its place at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition uses fashion as a lens to view Impressionism painting. By painting women (and some men) in the fashions of the day, the Impressionists showed the world they were truly modern artists.

Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert by Claude Monet, from Musée d'Orsay | French Day Dress, 1865-67, from Metropolitan Museum of Art, both via Artlog

The exhibition looks at the relationship between fashion and art during the 1860s through 1880s. Chicago’s installation includes 75 major figure paintings, some that were not included in both of the other installations. Garments accompany these works, showing the real life inspirations or close resemblances these artists worked from. Some of the pairings are quite incredible.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is really a multidisciplinary exhibition at its finest. I’ve seen “Fashionism,” as I heard another Art Institute of Chicago curator call it, three times now — once at the Met and twice in Chicago. While I liked the Met’s installation a bit more, Chicago’s will still blow your mind.

Don’t miss this exhibition if you can make it to Chicago. This is its last stop, and it closes September 29. There are also some really great public and member programs running in conjunction with the show, so check them out as well.

Address: Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Hours: Monday-Wednesday 10:30-5, Thursday 10:30-8, Friday-Sunday 10:30-5
Admission: adults $23 (Chicago residents $18, Illinois residents $20), seniors and students $17 (Chicago residents $12, Illinois residents $14), members and children under 14 free

The Millinery Shop by Edgar Degas, c. 1882-86, from Art Institute of Chicago via The Culture Concept Circle

Shining Shots

corset, 1740-1760, and panier, 1770, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Yesterday I came across a gallery of images for the new Musée des Arts Décoratifs exhibition La mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette, which explores the mechanics of foundation garments.

The photography is extraordinary. Shot by Patricia Canino, the undergarments are superbly lit so that they glow against the dark background. I had to share them.

bustle, 1887, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

butterfly bustle hoop, 1872, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

I’ve been to my fair share of historic fashion shoots, and it is incredibly difficult to execute these kind of images. First, the technical skills required to mount these garments must be flawless. The camera picks up the smallest wrinkles, so the form must be moulded to fit the piece perfectly. Then there’s creating symmetrical bows and finding the best drape of the fabric. The camera can spot stray specks of dust that the eye doesn’t catch. Sure photoshop can help, but the final image will be so much better if one takes care of those details from the start. And then lastly, it takes time and talent to light and photograph clothes like this.

paniers, 1775-1780, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

corset, 1770-1780, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

I love underwear. It’s fascinating to me to examine the understructures that literally create the fashionable shape. And these images really show them off in the best light.

Punk Part Two

This morning I bemoaned a lack of contextualization in the Met’s Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibition. I knew Andrew Bolton had done the research, I just didn’t see enough of it through the display or in text labels in the exhibition.

Well this afternoon I stumbled upon a video pinned to Pinterest by the Met — a gallery walk through with Bolton. Here is a lot of the missing context! It’s a great dialog about why this is important to look at and details on specific pieces.

And I didn’t mention before that I know the Punk exhibition catalog goes into great detail regarding the thesis of the show and the garments in it. I’m bummed more of this couldn’t have been included in the gallery spaces, and that it requires watching supplemental videos or buying an exhibition catalog to find the real meat.

Punk Needs More Meat

Two weekends ago I flew to New York City. The whole trip revolved around seeing Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I took in other shows as well while I was there. In two days, I saw six fashion exhibitions. Some were more high brow than others, but they were good overall. Unfortunately, Punk fell short of my initial expectations.

Punk: Chaos to Couture title wall gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I first found out the show would be curated by Andrew Bolton, I decided I really wanted to go. He’s created some of the best exhibitions at the Met in my opinion. Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century, Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion, and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty were all his. With that kind of track record, I wanted to see this show. But then the less than stellar reviews started rolling in.

The reviews had two major problems with Punk: first, it was a show about high fashion appropriating punk, not a punk show, and second, there was a lack of contextualization. The first point is indeed true. Bolton and the Met never set out to make an authentic punk show or mislead people about what they would see. It was always going to be about high fashion co-opting the aesthetics. So if you don’t like high fashion’s blatant use of punk imagery, well, you probably aren’t going to like this show. I personally don’t mind that basic premise.

The second point about contextualization was the one I was skeptical about. I’ve read reviews of Bolton shows before, and so many of them complain of a lack of written contextualization. Well wake up folks, I wanted to say. Contextualization doesn’t always have to come in the form of the written word. It can be done through the exhibition design setting the scene. It can be done by showing period sketches or photographs in a case in the same room as a period garment to demonstrate that garment’s background. Audiences are smarter than you think. Give them a little credit that they can infer connections without everything being spelled out.

However, in this show the contextualization argument may be right. I left the show feeling like I hadn’t learned anything. I had just seen a bunch of cool looking clothes. The question “what was the point?” has been nagging me since I saw it.

Clothes for Heroes gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

The small amount of clothes that were contextualized in the first gallery space was pretty cool, seen in the photo above. Authentic 1970s garments sold in Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren’s shop in London were paired up with contemporary high fashion versions. The “real” stuff was fascinating to see. Their fashiony doppelgängers took on an elevated meaning standing right next to the authentic items. I saw an “Anarchy Mask” T-shirt reputedly worn by Johnny Rotten and the “God Save the Queen” T-shirt.

D.I.Y.: Bricolage gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

But then things broke down to purely superficial aesthetic details in the following four gallery spaces. Not only were there a lack of references about how pieces were inspired by punk — other than they fit some vague approximation of what punk looked like and there was very loud music playing to hard-to-watch videos of punk imagery — but there were few details about the garments themselves. No descriptive labels for individual garments, no pictures of the clothes on the runway or worn in everyday life. The exhibition design left me wanting more. I wanted to know what it was like to sew Gareth Pugh ruffled gowns out of garbage bags (seen in the photo above on the center platform). There was no video of the infamous graffitied McQueen dress from spring/summer 1999 getting spray painted live on the runway by robotic machines. No insight into the minds of any of the designers when they were conceiving of these clothes.

430 King's Road Period Room, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

My first walk through of the exhibition was a treat however. My friend Sarah Scaturro, head conservator in the Costume Institute, took me through. She pointed out things I would have never noticed on my own — every element in the replicated Seditionaries shop is archival (seen in the photo above), the single garment owned by the Met in a particular gallery was standing on the only pedestal that didn’t house a speaker, a T-shirt that said “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” was the real punk deal. That was very exciting getting an individual tour. So I have to say a big thank you to Sarah for taking time out of her day to walk through it with me.

D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

The garments in Punk were really cool, and they were a treat to see, especially that graffitied McQueen dress (seen above at left) — I had a sacred moment when I saw it in person. The show was a visual treat and mounted very well. But I felt the exhibition could have taught me more, could have pushed beyond the superficial aesthetics. It lacked the heart and soul Bolton’s other shows are known to have. I wanted something a little more meaty, but I didn’t get it.

Exhibition File – Punk: Chaos to Couture

Punk: Chaos to Couture graphic, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is the time of year that fashion historians wait for with anticipation — the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute fashion exhibition. This year’s theme is Punk: Chaos to Couture. Curated by Andrew Bolton, the exhibition design is sure to thrill with sensory overload.

According to the Met’s website, Punk “will examine punk’s impact on high fashion from the movement’s birth in the early 1970s through its continuing influence today. Featuring approximately one hundred designs for men and women, the exhibition will include original punk garments and recent, directional fashion to illustrate how haute couture and ready-to-wear borrow punk’s visual symbols.”

The major themes in the show include New York and London, Clothes for Heroes, Hardware, Bricolage, Graffiti and Agitprop, and Destroy. It’ll look at the DIY aesthetic and the ways the original punk movement inspire designers working today.

I’m actually going to New York this weekend specifically to see the show. I saw Bolton’s AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion exhibition in 2006, and it was over the top. I’m still kicking myself for not finding a way to New York to see his famed Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show — the 5th most attended exhibition at the Met.

The show opens to the public today and runs until August 14. Some of the reviews are out:

Robin Givhan says that “Even If Punk Can’t Shock, Fashion Still Can.”
Suzy Menkes thinks the exhibition is “Punk Without the Down and Dirty.”
Sasha Frere Jones decries the show as “The Day That Punk Died Again.”

I’m trying to reserve judgement, even though these reviews do not say the most flattering things about Punk. This is not the first time Bolton has been accused of not contextualizing the fashion he exhibits. His shows are not for fashion historian purists. I’ll let you know what I think after this weekend.

Address: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 215 Centre Street, New York, New York
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 9:30-5:30, Friday-Saturday 9:30-9, Sunday 9:30-5:30
Recommended Admission: adults $25, seniors $17, students $12, members and children under 12 free

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: +