Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced – A Handmaker’s Factory Review

A curator’s job must be so difficult. Deciding which bits of a vast history, body of work or era to include sounds immensely challenging. Perhaps, that is what makes it all the more impressive, and rewarding, when the job is done well. When I planned my visit to the Stephen Burrows exhibit on display at the Museum of the City of New York, I expected to see beautiful clothes arranged in an artful setting. But, both Mr. Burrows work and the museum met, and far exceeded, that expectation!

The very first thing you see when you enter the space that houses this collection is a massive photo of Grace Jones, outfitted in Burrows’ clothes.

This image immediately sets the tone for the liveliness, beauty and attitude of the entire exhibit. Burrows’ work is an explosion of color, pattern, texture and, most of all, movement. Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced, is appropriately named.

The designer’s evolution is clear and the way the exhibit has been arranged encourages you to view the pieces in the order of that evolution. Positioned just after Ms. Jones are several sketches. An introduction of sorts.

Leather, fringe, fur, glamour give way to jersey, silk chiffon, sequins, glamour. Even a coat made of wool felt drapes in such a way as to appear weightless. I was also struck by how body conscious and sleek many of the pieces were while still remaining fun and elegant. Quite the accomplishment.

Taking it all in as one evokes a feeling that Iman succinctly sums up:

Even the room is cloaked in billowy fabric, carrying the movement from the clothing up the walls to the ceiling.

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The sparse color of the ceiling, background and platforms create the perfect backdrop for this color explosion. The deep ebony mannequins setting them off in a way that any other color just couldn’t do. Their posture communicating self assurance, elegance, class, playfulness, sex appeal.

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Stephen Burrows continues to enjoy a thriving career and made a splash at the opening ceremony for the exhibit. It’s so wonderful to see someone receive their honors and accolades during their lifetime. To have the chance to see the impact that their influence has had on their industry. What an amazing privilege.

Stephen+Burrows+Stephen+Burrows+Fashion+Danced+ZzFg-lruMEMxPhoto credit-http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Stephen+Burrows/Stephen+Burrows+Fashion+Danced+Exhibit/ZzFg-lruMEM

It’s thrilling to see him smile and mingle with those whose careers mirror his own rise. Iman, Bethann Hardison, and more of the African American glitterati gathered to reminisce with him and show that they still look fabulous in his clothes. This exhibition is just one in a long line of retrospectives, documentary films, awards and fashion milestones. After more than 45 years in the fashion business, he can also add to his list of distinctions the honor of styling for a range that includes collector edition Barbie dolls and the First Lady of the United States.

His continued success and growth into a fashion mogul that has prospered with the times, he’s on Twitter AND Instagram creating his own buzz about his work, makes me think of his contemporaries (like Jaxson and Kelly) who did not live to do the same.  With a few of his vintage pieces for sale on Etsy and Ebay, including sewing patterns(!!) and invitations from the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode to present his collections in Paris, make me hopeful for more of his work for years to come.

IMG_7993This review originally appeared on Handmaker’s Factory.
Thanks, again, to Nichola for making the arrangements for me!

Designers of Color in Fashion History :: Patrick Kelly

Designers of Color in Fashion History :: Patrick Kelly

I was astonished to learn that Jay Jaxon was the first American (and by default, African American) haute couturier. He is not widely known, so it stands to reason that this extraordinary fact about him must be little known, too. So, I found myself surprised, again, when reading up on Patrick Kelly. In the late 80′s Kelly was the first American and person of color to become a member of the exclusive Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter. Though Kelly enjoyed a degree of success and recognition during his lifetime, that has endured after his passing, I imagine that this honor felt like a huge validation of his talent and vision as a designer.
After all, the world he would eventually inhabit was light years away from his humble, but proud, beginnings. In his working class Mississippi home, Kelly was surrounded by female family members with a flair for making-do and mending. He was introduced to embellishing, reworking and otherwise refashioning from a very early age. It was here that his social consciousness was raised, too. According to reports, Kelly noticed the lack of African American women featured in magazines. His grandmother explained that designers did not think of them when making clothes. This, perhaps, provides some reasoning for the imagery he used in his work. Golliwogs previously had no place in haute couture.

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Kelly began what would become his life’s work, to clothe ALL women, by starting with his junior high classmates whom he designed and sewed dresses for. Later, Kelly attended Jackson State University where he studied art history and African American history. Eventually driven out by the prejudice and racism he experienced, he left his hometown to pursue a career in fashion.
On his own and living in Atlanta, he began to make clothes again. This time, to sell. His work sorting donations at AMVETS (an American veterans’ organization, there) gave him access to a wealth of designer clothing. He refashioned the garments and sold them alongside his original designs. This allowed him to work as a window dresser at the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Boutique for free. The position gave him a crucial in with the fashion industry elite. His volunteerism paid off. Kelly began to draw a salary at the St Laurent boutique and eventually opened his own selling vintage. In addition to this, he taught classes at a modeling school where Pat Cleveland, a notable person of color in fashion’s history in her own right, encouraged him to go to New York.
Taking the advice to heart, Kelly studied design at Parsons in New York City before landing in Paris where he really began to make his mark. Calling on his combined influences: skills he learned at the feet of his family, showmanship developed while in school, technical skills honed at Parsons and the hustle he displayed when volunteering at the St Laurent boutique, Patrick sold his designs on the streets of Paris. To much acclaim. This is not an easy thing to do. According to Christian Lacroix, “The French function according to love at first sight. If they fall in love with you, they accept you. And Patrick is very lovable. Everybody loves him.” It’s as simple as that. Or is it? Patrick was driven. He took risks. He worked hard. His success did not come from nowhere.

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Kelly went on to produce unique collections, presented in electrifying (for their time) shows. He remained true to his mission by designing with all women in mind and kept an ear to the street so that his work was reflective of what was in Parisian style. He believed in making affordable clothing, the kind of luxury that women like his mother, aunt and grandmother could have worn in their time. He achieved a level of success that those women, his “full-figured girls”, did not think possible. He had clothes in the finest boutiques, magazine spreads in Elle and so many orders and freelance jobs that he hadn’t vacationed in years. His creations were worn by princesses (like Diana) actresses (like Jane Seymour) and the singers (like Madonna and Grace Jones). It was the all singing, all dancing Patrick Kelly show.

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But that show would not go on. Kelly’s full and fabulous life was cut short at age 35(ish- he was secretive about his actual year of birth). Though the original cause of death was attributed to bone marrow disease and a brain tumor, it was later confirmed that Kelly was HIV positive and his death was AIDS related. Unlike the houses of other famous designers, Kelly’s folded after his death. One can’t help but wonder what led to this. Kelly had a seemingly vast (and influential) circle of friends. Did legal issues play into the demise of his house? Was there a clash of interests that led its standstill? Are there other, notable designers of color whose work died with them?
This article originally appeared at Handmaker’s Factory.
There’s a lot more information available about Patrick Kelly than there was about Jay Jaxon. Spend a little time getting to know more about him and he’ll start feeling like a long lost friend!

PUNK: Chaos to Couture – A Handmaker’s Factory Review

“Tears, safety pins, rips all over the gaff, third rate tramp thing, that was purely really, lack of money. The arse of your pants falls out, you just use safety pins”
-Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols

This quote sums up the origins of the punk era, taken from one at its center, Johnny Rotten. I copied it from one of the walls in the Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibit currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, here in New York City. It was located towards the end of the rather large collection. Copying it was difficult because the area it was located in was dark, crowded and full of flashing light thrown off of the massive video display on a nearby wall. I felt compelled to copy it because it allowed me to identify the feeling of “something’s just off…” that I was afflicted with while taking everything in.

Let me explain myself. Directly beneath this Johnny Rotten quote reads:

“More than any other aspect of the punk ethos of do-it-yourself, the practice of destroy or deconstruction has had the greatest and most enduring impact on fashion.”

It continues on for a bit. Espousing all of the ways that punk style, method, material and attitude has influenced many of the designer featured in the exhibit. What the composer of this spiel apparently misses, which I saw clearly with reading these things one after the other, is the huge irony of the entire exhibit. Mr. Rotten’s quote tells you directly, punks wore their clothes that way because they had no choice! This style/lifestyle grew organically. It grew out of necessity. And it became cool (and political) because those who rocked the style were so awesome, so talented, so in your face their lack of money and torn, pinned clothing only made them better, more interesting, more desirable. So, a ritzy museum like the MET, which calls one of the toniest neighborhoods in NYC home, offering an exhibit on the fashion of the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised is really quite amazing.

Title Wall Gallery/Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When you walk into the chamber that punk claimed you are met with a massive, jarring video display that is Right. In. Your. Face. It’s followed with a reproduction of the filthy bathroom at CBGB and continues with the actual clothes made/worn/sold by punks and punk Godmother Vivienne Westwood and her god-children the Sex Pistols. The moody dark atmosphere of it all the sets bar at a height that the remainder of the exhibit fails to meet.

Facsimile of CBGB bathroom, New York, 1975/Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

430 King’s Road Period Room/Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

D.I.Y.: Hardware/Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The above chamber does feature some vintage punk couture. However, from here on, many of the items featured are “punk inspired” designer clothes. Designer clothes that cost into the thousands of dollars. That is not punk. A neatly trimmed grocery store shopping bag paired with silk shantung pants does not make quite the same statement as safety pinning the ripped crotch of your pants together because you can’t afford to buy new ones. In my humble opinion. Strategically slashed designer jeans are not DIY. The do-it-yourself label cannot be applied to mass produced goods. Can it? Attaching two lengths of elastic to some black netting, and charging a fortune for it, is not a continuation of the punk era.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some absolutely stunning things in this collection. Particularly some additions by Alexander McQueen and this set of dresses made with hand painted fabric.

D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop/Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

But, unless Dolce and Gabanna painted and then wore these gowns themselves, can they really be DIY?

After you take in all of the color and slash and ironically contrary text spread around the place, you’re dumped out into a gift shop. A gift shop. Could they have ended on a less punk note? There is not one piece of free memorabilia for this collection. Well, if there was I surely did not see it. What you are given is the opportunity to spend $46 on a book about it. Or to buy a postcard with Sid Vicious scowling on it. Or a studded platform shoe key chain….

This photo, where I’m reflected in a sign pointing me toward the exhibit, is all I have to remember the experience by.

To visit Punk: Chaos to Couture online, click here.

This review originally appeared on Handmaker’s Factory.
Thanks to Nichola for making the arrangement for me!

Designers of Color in Fashion History :: A Handmaker’s Factory Series

Hi, again! I’ve popped back in to direct you to a bit of fashion history reading over at The Handmaker’s Factory blog. I’ve contributed my first article (of many, hopefully) and I’d love to know what you think!
Handmaker's Factory

Designers of Color in Fashion History

FYI: Thanks for the sick baby well wishes. The kid (the boy twin, he of the always-gets-sick-first-weak-immune-system) did stay home again, today. Mostly sleeping. And taking advantage of more TV viewing than usual. He should be good to go for tomorrow, hopefully.

WD Prompt I :: Those Old, Twin Bitches

Those Old Twin Bitches

For my first Thanksgiving as host, I bought the biggest turkey they had in the store. Because I don’t do shit half-ass. We had never bothered with the holiday before, but if you do Thanksgiving, YOU DO THANKSGIVING. Ya know what I mean??? Anyway, I get this sucker into the cart and start pushing this big bitch around the store. And I get tired. I decide to leave it to one side so I could run down the aisle instead of maneuvering through it with the Turkey-Mobile. I get about halfway down, to the spices, when I catch some movement near the model T.

Two old ladies where attempting to hoist the turkey out!

What the ever loving fuck!

I abandon the spices and reach the old ladies just as they’re getting the beast over the side. I slam my hands down on top of it, sending it crashing to the bottom. It nearly takes the two would-be thieves inside with it. I open my mouth to lay into these broads when the one closest to me rights herself and roundhouses me with her, apparently brick filled, purse. I see stars. But this doesn’t stop me from blocking a hit from the other one.

It’s then that I realize that they’re twins.

And I know them.

The one I currently have by the scruff of her neck (and bottom of her wig) is Ms. Betty Carmichael. I let go and say “Oh, shit! Sorry about th-” Before I complete the word, she’s shoved me full on in my chest. I go flying into the fresh corn display, and all of the people surrounding it who have stopped to observe the developing brawl. When I get to my feet, I don’t waste time with questions like,

“Why the fuck did you push ME when you were stealing my turkey!?!?!”

Instead, I go into a running crouch and shove her right into the side of the cart.

I realized then, I should have thought things out a bit. I have now blocked the T-Mobile in. I’m trying to disentangle Ms. B.C., and get around Ms. Alice Carmichael, when I’m grabbed from behind. I immediately open my mouth to explain that they were taking my big ass turkey when Ms. A.C., the one still right side up, starts to cry.

Big. Ass. Tears.

“Oh! Look at what you’ve done to my sister!” she weeps, like the fragile old lady she is NOT.

Suffused with fresh rage, I lunge for her, only to be brought up short by the guard holding me by my coat. I am then unceremoniously dragged out and dumped on the pavement. Big ass turkey and all the fixings…inside with the thieving spinsters.

I called home to deliver the bad news. My family is always game for a laugh so I hoped that they could find the humor in my being kicked out of the only store in town with anything left in it. The phone is answered on the first ring. Before a greeting is uttered I say,

“I’ve lost everything in a fight to two old, twin bitches!”

The reply is instantaneous “The Carmichaels?!?”

“In-fucking-deed!”

“Eh, fuck this Thanksgiving shit…go to that joint we like and then bring your ass home.”

And that’s why we all ate hamburgers.

Prompt from Writer’s Digest.

Must Go :: MOMA

Thanks to fellow instagram member Ancora Imparo, I now know that there are TWO Frida Kahlo paintings on view at the MOMA!!! I can hardly wait to actually see her work in person. I took a picture of little Frida, and her crew, to celebrate. More handmade dollies live on the shelf above this one, too.

Frida & the handmade doll Gang

There is also, in case you couldn’t tell, quite an odd selection of reading material represented here, lol. I mean, The Rock Says, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Twilight in a stack with Anna Kerinina, The Best America Short Stories compiled by Salmon Rushdie and The Color Purple is sort of hysterical. Guess which of those I haven’t read yet…

My writing books all live here as well. I have more arriving tomorrow.

 And these to check out with the kiddies.

I really, really like new books ;o)

A Bit About My Grandfather

The first thing you should know about the grandfather that I lost yesterday is that I never once called him grandpa, grandfather or grand anything. He was my Popie. I am the second of many grand and great grand children. So, when my cousin and I dubbed him Popie, Popie he became for all that followed.

I grew up in a house filled with extended family. Popie was my de facto father, when mine was absent. He was a country boy. The baby of the family. The only son after seven girls. He was tall. He was handsome. He was a veteran. He was a young husband. He was a dad. Ironically, to five daughters, bracketed by boys.

Then he was a grandfather. And a retiree. And a man with black hair on his head and a white mustache. And then a man with no mustache. And the kind of man we called Mad Dog, as he had a temper to deserve such a name. He liked to sneak and eat things in the fridge after we’d all gone to bed. He was an avid reader, and destroyer of books. He liked to tell us ENDLESSLY of his plans. Plans he never quite got around to putting into action.

He liked to denounce TV. And throw out TVs. And then get a new one and start again. He was a drinker. And then he wasn’t. And we didn’t know which to prefer. He often called me by my aunt’s name. He liked to call our friends “the cute one” or “the ugly one” or “that skinny girl that comes by here”. He liked to remind me how he thought I’d never grow. He liked to grab your shoulder and lean in too close when he spoke. He liked to argue. Longest when he was wrong.

And then he was sick. And then he was worse. And then he forgot all of these things from time to time. And then he was lost in his own mind some days. And now he is gone. And my sister, for whom he was the only father she ever knew, is devastated and I can’t fix it.

We will never hear his voice again.

We will never make another plan.

It hasn’t quite sunk in.

I am tasked with writing his obituary, undoubtedly one of the hardest things I will ever be asked to write. How do you write about someone you’ve known your whole life, but, in a way, never really knew?

Hug your grandparents if you still have them. I will try to do better with the three I now have left.