Couture Adventure Part Duex?

My birthday is next month. I will be 35. I’m not a huge fan of birthdays. That has nothing to do with my age and everything to do with the incredibly shitty ones I had as a kid. Though the bdays have improved drastically as a wife and mom, I am still somewhat reluctant to make an event out of them. For fear of…I don’t know what really. I think I still tend to restrain my emotions due to some long held fear of….something.

Well, I enjoyed my recent dressmaking experience so much (thanks for your kind words!! I will try to get better at replying to those much appreciated comments!) that I’ve been trying to think of another reason or occasion to indulge and completely disregarded my birthday as an option.
But, why?

The bug to bone (PUN!) has been reawakened (with a vengeance, please help me refrain from ordering that beading tool) by viewing some spectacular examples of couture artistry in motion via that most excellent medium, YouTube.
Look at all of this deliciousness and tell me you don’t want to spend weeks working on an outfit you’ll only wear a handful of times 😉


discovered via Pauline Alice



discovered via Frau Fleur


discovered browsing Dior

I’ve been collecting couture/high fashion-y inspiration in a pinboard, naturally.

OOOOOOH FASHION

Or from here, where I could work with a new and challenging material (like leather!!) rather than more traditional couture techniques.

RTW

I realized, somewhat belatedly, that I could create my own reason to wear finery. That I have friends willing to play dress up, just for the hell of it, and a husband who would take me anywhere I wanted to go to show off my hard work.

Do you need a reminder that any day can be a special occasion? Look at those videos and dream with 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.

Patrick-Kelly_-Iman_-Grace-jones-Naomi-Campbell

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!