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Archive for October, 2021

Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

On now at the de Young Museum in San Francisco is the West Coast premiere of Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, a celebration of Mr. Kelly and his inspired fashions of the 1980s.

Black fashion designer Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) was known for combining whimsy with classic. His unique use of embellishment as well as a constant upbeat message in his designs attracted many. Originally from Mississippi, he moved to NYC to study fashion design and in 1979 he moved to Paris. There he had friends bop around the streets in his handmade jersey outfits adorned with buttons. These colorful ensembles caught the attention of French Elle magazine and voila, he was on his way to fashion stardom.

Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

I was not familiar with Mr. Kelly before hearing of this exhibit but I’m happy to have found him and now he is among my favorites. I appreciate his humor and references to fashion history; I see a touch of Schiparelli here and a pinch of Chanel there, but with a unique Kelly twist. There is something very charming about these designs – they are playful, fun, and yet still polished. He was a master at playing with sophisticated silhouettes by adding unexpected adornments like buttons, tassels, and dice. His use of buttons was inspired by his grandmother who, when he was a child, used to replace his lost buttons with whatever style and color she had on hand. That “outside the box” approach stuck with Mr. Kelly.

Runway of Love, curated by Laura L. Camerlengo, Associate Curator of Costume and Textile Arts at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, is divided into four sections covering Mr. Kelly’s career from hand making knit jersey dresses in his early Paris days to his successful runway shows. One of the sections includes some of his personal collection of racist memorabilia, which served as inspiration for him in his designs. Although controversial in America at that time, his use of racist symbols was his way of controlling the charged images and that puts another interesting twist on his work.

In 1988 Mr. Kelly was the first American and first Black designer to be voted into the Chambre Syndicale du Pret-a-Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode, the prestigious French association for ready-to-wear designers. This was quite an honor and well deserved!

Patrick Kelly’s archive of fashions was given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Mr. Kelly’s business and life partner, Bjorn Amelan, who said that he spent years after Mr. Kelly’s early death of complications from AIDS in 1990, looking for the right home for the archive.

As well as 80 fully accessorized ensembles, the exhibit includes several videos of runway shows, sketches and art by the designer, and other ephemera.

From the 80s music in the background to the upbeat videos, from the buttons to the bright colors to the cultural references – I walked out of Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love uplifted and inspired. I can’t recommend this exhibit enough.

Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the de Young Museum now through April 24, 2022.

A few things to know before you go:

  1. Pack a mask! Masks are required on everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
  2. The Coat Room is closed; travel light and remember that backpacks must be hand held inside the museum.
  3. To allow for plenty of safe space in the galleries the tickets are timed, so it’s a good idea to book ahead.

And there’s more! Continue to explore Patrick Kelly with a series of panel discussions Wednesdays at 5pm: October 27th, November 3rd, March 30, April 23. Click here for the full scoop.

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PARIS, FRANCE – CIRCA 1988: Patrick Kelly at the Patrick Kelly Spring 1989 show circa 1988 in Paris, France. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)

I just want my clothes to make you smile.

Patrick Kelly (1954-1990), American fashion designer.

Well, I think Mr. Kelly achieved that desire. His whimsical fashions definitely make me smile.

Tune in tomorrow for my two cents on Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love exhibition on now at the de Young Museum.

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Author Lucy Adlington first read about the fashion salon at Auschwitz while researching the Nazis and the fashion industry. The idea of Jewish women, skilled seamstresses, forced to make clothing for the very people who were in fact killing them, has to be, as Ms. Adlington said in one of her recent online presentations, “one of the most grotesques anomalies ever.” She explains that she tried to find out more but only had nicknames for the women of the salon and she reached a dead-end. But her mind was whirling with what it must have been like working in the Auschwitz fashion salon. So she wrote a novel, The Red Ribbon (Hot Key Books). After the worldwide publication of her book in 2017, the emails started to arrive: My aunt was a dressmaker in the fashion salon at Auschwitz … my mother … my grandmother …

Connections were made, interviews happened, and Ms. Adlington was finally able to write the true story of Marta, Irene, Renee, Bracha, Katka, and Hunya; just six of the twenty-five women who created beautiful clothing for SS wives.

In The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive, Ms. Adlington weaves the stories of our heroines, some who knew each other before the war and all accomplished seamstresses (Marta was a master cutter and Hunya had once owned her own fashion salon) with the broader context of the war and more specifically the fashion industry just before and during the war.

The fashion salon at Auschwitz, called The Upper Tailoring Studio, was the idea of Hedwig Hoss, the camp commandant’s wife. She, like most other SS wives, appreciated fine clothing and that was something hard to come by at the time since the SS had completely decimated the fashion industry, largely run by Jewish people, in every country they occupied. Marta was the first seamstress to start making clothing for Hedwig and as other SS wives also wanted bespoke clothing, Marta insisted that she needed help and so one by one she was able to save twenty-five women from hard labor and probably death.

In telling this story, Ms. Adlington is also pointing out the value of clothing – clothing as identity, as historical documentation, as memento, as comfort. When people first arrived at Auschwitz, they were forced to strip down to nothing. Every last stitch of clothing removed and put into a big pile. The SS knew what they were doing – take away identity, take away the familiar, take away dignity. Most of the work at Auschwitz was hard manual labor, like tearing down brick buildings, but some of the work was less physical, yet no less harrowing. One of the jobs was to sort through the clothing of the newly arrived. Digging through coats, dresses, shoes, even undergarments of people who were likely dead. One young woman found clothing that had belonged to her sister.

So what was done with all this clothing? After it was sorted into categories, the SS wives chose what they wanted and sent the pieces to The Upper Tailoring Studio for alterations. Some of it was sent to Germany to be sold (sold!) while the more tattered items were moved to another camp where slave labor wove the fabric into rugs. Shoes were repaired, if necessary, and also sent on to Germany. (While many camp laborers had no shoes or wore wood clogs that didn’t fit.)

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz is full of disturbing facts like these I mention and for me it was slow going, as I just couldn’t take too much in one sitting. But I appreciate knowing the story of these remarkable, courageous women as well as the central role clothing had in the Holocaust. The photos of the six women throughout the book make the story less abstract and to see their pre-war smiling faces is heartwarming. There are also magazine adverts images to show what fashions Frau Hoss and her ilk would have requested.

Ms. Adlington has done an impressive job telling a complicated story. Can I say I enjoyed it? I don’t know that “enjoy” is the right word. I would say it was a difficult but fascinating read and anyone who is interested in fashion history will want this book in their library.

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Winter coats, an important investment and carefully treasured, now unbelted and set aside. Sweaters and cardigans, often home-made, with patches of wool fluff where the arms rubbed against the body, peeled off. Then, more hesitantly, the front buttons of blouses, and neat side zips of dresses and skirts, all creased from the journey, possibly marked with sweat. Shoes and boots – off, placed together out of habit, their insoles gently curved to fit the owner’s feet, the heels scuffed from all the steps their owners had walked. Socks rolled off, perhaps new, perhaps darned. Stockings unclipped from girdles and garter belts. Legs bare. Feet cold on concrete.

Lucy Adlington – British fashion historian and author of The Dressmakers of Auschwitz (Harper).

In this passage, Ms. Adlington is describing how the new arrivals at Auschwitz concentration camp had to completely disrobe.

Please check back with ODFL tomorrow for my book review of The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive.

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Sandy Schreier is known for her collection of couture fashion that numbers over 15,000 items. The story goes that when she was a child growing up in Detroit her father worked in the fur department of a high end department store. Often he took his daughter to work where she made friends with the lady customers. Before long these wealthy ladies were gifting some of their used couture gowns and everyday wear to Ms. Schreier to play dress up. Well, even then she knew she was on to something and didn’t play with the clothing but instead kept it all safe, eventually storing everything she was given a spare room of the family home.

She continued collecting, later putting an ad in the paper looking for donations. Her collection is just that, a collection not a wardrobe. She says she considers the pieces like artwork and has never worn them.

Her collection includes pieces by Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Adrian … all the biggies past and present.

In 2019 Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection at The Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute displayed 80 of the 165 pieces, which Ms. Schreier has promised to donate to the institute.

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Balenciaga gown, 1961. Part of the In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection exhibition at the Met 2019/2020.

Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were my picture books; they were my Mother Goose.

Sandy Schreier – American fashion collector and fashion historian author.

This quote is from an interview that Ms. Schreier did with the popular podcast, Dressed: The History of Fashion hosted by April Calahan and Cassidy Zachery.

Come back tomorrow and read more about Sandy Schreier.

Who else out there looked at fashion magazines as a child? My mother told me that she used to cut out images and make paper dolls. Certainly, there’s a fairytale quality to fashion magazines – the beautiful models, the extraordinary clothing, the exotic photoshoots – it’s pure fantasy. And who can resist?

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Designs by Patrick Kelly, part of Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the de Young Museum, SF. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Save the date!! Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love opens at the de Young Museum on October 23, 2021 and runs though April 24, 2022.

Black fashion designer Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) was known for combining whimsy with classic. His unique use of embellishment as well as a constant upbeat message in his designs attracted many. Originally from Mississippi, he moved to NYC to study fashion design and in 1979 he moved to Paris. There he had friends bop around the streets in his handmade jersey outfits adorned with buttons. These colorful ensembles caught the attention of Elle magazine and voila, he was on his way to fashion stardom.

Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love was organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and includes 80 fully accessorized designs organized into sections that highlight the inspiration behind the designer’s work.

I can’t wait! How about you?

Check out the website and plan your visit. Note: Masks are required.

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Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell, circa 1970.

I was cute and lovely and always dressed nicely so I stood out. So people would stop and look at us like, ‘who’s that couple?’

Yayoi Kusama, Japanese artist.

I recently watched the documentary, Kusama Infinity. While living in New York in the 1960s Ms. Kusama dated American artist Joseph Cornell, who was many years older than she.

Ms. Kusama experienced a lot of challenges and hardship as an artist during a time when women in the NY art scene where not taken seriously. Still, she persisted and received some acclaim for work such as her soft sculptures and installations. Having endured much trauma in her childhood, she suffered from hallucinations; to help manage these frightening episodes she drew them, which is where her consistent use of nets and dots come from.

Since the 1990s Ms. Kusama has become an internationally recognized pop artist and today attracts millions of people to her exhibits. She also has crossed over into fashion, selling her own designs in department stores and collaborating with brand designers such as Louis Vuitton.

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