27 August 2016

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology - Pleating

Mariano Fortuny, evening dress, 1920s.

This year the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Costume Institute presentation examined the traditional métiers, or skills, utilized in both haute couture and ready-to-wear, in an exhibit titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.   My husband and I enjoyed the exhibit in July and it deserves more than one blog post.

While my previous blog post provided an introduction to the exhibit, as well as images from the "Embroidery" section, this post presents some images from the "Plissé", or pleating, displays.

According to the curator's wall text:
Pleating has a long history history in stylish apparel.  When the French fan maker Martin Petit invented the plissage au carton, or paper mold, in the 1760s, pleating solidified its preeminence in fashionable dress.  Precipitated by the popularity of the hand fan, the technique was further advanced in the mid-nineteenth century by one of Petit's descendants and is still used today by maisons such as Lognon.

In the twentieth century, fashion designers developed proprietary pleating techniques in tandem with technological advancements. Mariano Fortuny developed a method of pleating textiles by hand that remains shrouded in mystery.  The pleats were not set permanently, so clients had to send their gowns back to the Fortuny workshops to have the pleats reset if they were dampened or flattened.

With the emergence of synthetic textiles came the first techniques for permanently set pleats.  Mary McFadden's patented method, call "Marii" after the designer, used a synthetic charmeuse fabric woven in Australia, dyed in Japan, and pleated in the United States.  Her innovations were continued by Issey Miyake, whose inventive approach involves pleating clothes rather than textiles.  The process entails construction garments at two or three time their intended size, and then precisely folding, ironing, and placing the sewn ensembles sandwiched between paper, into a heat press.

Fortuny, evening dress, detail.

Mary McFadden, dress, ca. 1980.

Miyake Design Studio, Issey Miyake, "Rhythm Pleats" dress, 1990.

The creations by Issey Miyake were displayed both in their flattened, two-dimensional state and in their expanded forms on mannequins.  The flattened garments reminded me of the way kimono are neatly folded for storage.  Western-style clothes hangers are not needed.

Finally, the more prosaic, but colorful, pleated and striped skirts by Raf Simons, designed during his brief tenure at Dior.

Ensembles by Raf Simons for House of Dior, 2015.

02 August 2016

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology - Part I

Karl Lagerfeld, House of Chanel, wedding ensemble, 2014-15.

The exhibit Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,  the latest iteration of the Costume Institute's annual show-stopper exhibit, has proved so popular that the Metropolitan Museum of Art extended its run until September 5, 2016.  The show -  curated by Andrew Bolton, new head curator of the Costume Institute - features 170 items, dating from 1870 to 2016.  The installation does not focus on any one fashion house or  particular movement but celebrates the techniques - implemented by both hand and machine -  used in garment construction and embellishment.

Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, dress, 2012.

The labels and wall text are unusually well written and instructive, making the exhibit really a crash course in the evolution of techniques used in both haute couture and prèt-à-porter.

From the introductory wall text:
The traditional distinction between the haute couture and prèt-à-porter has always been between the custom-made and the ready-made. Haute couture clothes are singular models fitted to the body of a specific individual, while prèt-à-porter garments are produced in multiples for the mass market in standard sizes to fit many body types.  Implicit in this difference is the assumption that the handwork techniques involved in the haute couture are superior to the mechanized methods of prèt-à-porter. Over the years, however, each discipline has regularly embraced the practices of the other.  Despite the fact that this mutual exchange continues to accelerate, the dichotomy between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) still characterizes the production processes of the haute couture and prèt-à-porter in the twenty-first century.

Instead of presenting the handmade and the machine-made as oppositional, this exhibition suggests a spectrum or continuum of practice, whereby the hand and the machine are equal and mutual protagonists in solving design problems, enhancing design practices, and, ultimately, advancing the future of the fashion.  It prompts a rethinking of the institutions of the haute couture and prèt-à-porter, especially as the technical separations between the two grow increasingly ambiguous and the quality of designer prèt-à-porter more refined.

At the same time, the exhibition questions the cultural and symbolic meanings of the hand-machine dichotomy.  Typically, the hand has been identified with exclusivity and individuality as well as with elitism and the cult of personality.  Similarly, the machine has been understood to signify not only progress and democracy but also dehumanization and homogenization.  In examining these values, the show's intention is to liberate the handmade and the machine-made from their usual confines of the haute couture and prèt-à-porter, releasing them from the exigencies of the fashion system into the hands of fashion designers for whom they serve as expressions of creative impulses.

Pleated Fortuny gowns.

The exhibit, on two levels in the Lehman gallery, is organized by the six traditional métiers, or trades, of dressmaking, codified in Denis Diderot's eighteenth century Encyclopédie.  As Roberta Smith stated in her excellent New York Times review, the show is a veritable tutorial on the evolution of these traditional métiers:  embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork.  Sound quaint? Well, the category of featherwork, for example, includes two dresses by Gareth Pugh featuring plastic drinking straws, hand-sewn individually to a substrate in a similar manner as the dyed ostrich feathers hand-glued to a Givenchy gown from decades earlier.

Gareth Pugh, dress with plastic drinking straws, 2015-16.

Hubert de Givenchy, evening dress with ostrich feathers, 1966-7.

In addition, one section of the exhibit is dedicated to the materials used in the process of design - the paper patterns and muslin mock-ups. The final area of the show highlights the two traditional divisions within a couture house - tailleur and flou, or tailoring and dress-making.

The exhibit contrasts traditional and cutting-edge aspects of all the métiers, beginning with embroidery.  As one would expect, the embroidery section features a lot of sequins, although the materials which can be applied to a garment range far beyond this small, shiny form of bead.  Several maisons, or small, specialized companies which employ the skilled workers whose hands produce this work, include Hurel, Lanel, Lesage, Montex and Broderies Vermont. All though these maisons are located in Paris, more work is being sent to India, where artisans are increasingly providing the embellishment for prèt-à-porter garments in particular.

Norman Norell, evening dresses with sequins, 1960's.

Left: Givenchy evening dress, 1963. Right: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, 2012.

Source: http://noesunblogdemoda.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

Many of the garments in the show are in neutral colorways - white, black, etc. - creating overall tonal coherence, but also giving added "punch" to garments which venture into other hues, such as the coral dresses above, by Hubert de Givenchy and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.  The Givenchy dress is embroidered with glass beads, tinsel and coral, while the Burton garment features glass beads, freshwater pearls, coral and dyed shells. 

The aquatic theme continues with the "Sardine" dress by Yves St. Laurent, one of the "case study" garments - artifacts show-cased in their own niches within the exhibit, and highlighted with a backdrop projection of up-close detail.

"Sardine" dress, Yves St. Laurent, 1983.

"Sardine" dress, detail.

From the exhibit wall text:
Known as the "sardine" dress, this formfitting sheath from Saint Laurent's 1983 "Gilda" collection was created in collaboration with Maison Lesage (founded 1924).  The seams of the black silk crepe dress were sewn by machine and finished by hand in the Saint Laurent atelier.  Lesage hand embroidered all the surface embellishments, executed in black and pewter beads and blue, gray, black, brown, silver, and opalescent gelatin paillettes to evoke the iridescent skin of a fish, a task that required fifteen hundred hours to complete. The allover imbrication, or fish scale pattern, obscures the dress's underlying structure and seams, creating the illusions of a second skin - a conceit that emphasizes the custom fit of a couture garment.  Over the years, Lesage has provided embroidery for many maisons de couture.  In 2002, CHANEL Paraffection, a division devoted to preserving the specialized métiers of the haute couture, acquired Lesage.  To date, the division has acquired ten other ateliers: Desrues, Lemarie, Michel, Massaro, Goossens, Montex, Causse, Barrie, Lognon, and ACT3.
What the exhibit didn't explain was that the specialized maisons were in danger of ceasing to exist all together; Chanel purchased them to prevent skills and expertise from vanishing.

Finally, embroidery and surface manipulation enter new territory in Iris van Herpen's sculpted dress, on the right, below. (I apologize, by the way, for the blurriness of the detail images in this post; light levels were very low and of course flash photography was not allowed.)

Left: Proenza Schouler dress, 2015-16. Right: Iris van Herpen dress, 2013-14.

Iris van Herpen dress, detail.

Source: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673194/iris-van-herpen-grows-her-latest-collection-from-magnets

Iris van Herpen describes the process of construction of the dress (from the exhibit wall text):
"[This] dress has a base made from cotton fabric.  Then there is a rubber component - a soft rubber - in which we place metal powder.  When you mix everything together, the rubber has a few minutes when it is still wet and soft.  We pour the rubber onto the cotton fabric.  Then we place magnets above and below, and you see the metal powder grow piece by piece - in a matter of seconds - before it sets.  The coloration is exquisite because while the rubber is still wet and soft we add a very thin enamel powder that has iridescent qualities."
So, artisans manipulating magnets instead of sewing needles. Throughout the exhibit, garments explore exotic materials and methods, and I'll write more about this fascinating exhibit in additional posts.

05 July 2016

Art for Every Home - Associated American Artists exhibit

Hans Moller, Chain Reaction, fabric.

On a hot day in July, DH and I visited the Grey Gallery of New York University, to view Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934-2000, an exhibit with approximately 150 artifacts on display, organized by the Marianne Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University. This traveling exhibit was scheduled to arrive at the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) this autumn, but, in a blow to textile lovers everywhere, the ATHM is closing its doors due to inadequate funds.

Enlargement of AAA catalog cover opens the exhibit.

Our arrival in July was fortuitous, as the Associated American Artists enterprise began during another hot July, in 1934, when New York businessman Reeves Lewenthal met with a group of artists including Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood and Doris Lee, to begin a studio art-print publishing venture.  Although the prints were sold in department stores as well as the AAA's own galleries, the real break-through came with the ease of ordering by mail from the company's illustrated catalogs.  The venture enjoyed success for many years, but after producing 2600 print editions by 600 artists, the AAA ceased operation in the year 2000. 

During the post-war period the company expanded into decorative arts, including ceramics, glass and, the primary focus of this blog, textiles. 

Artists' designs were adapted for apparel and home furnishing textiles by two textile converters, Riverdale Fabrics and M. Lowenstein and Sons, and utilized by companies such as Catalina Sportswear and Henry Rosenfeld.

Ad for swimsuits utilizing Laura Jean Allen's Imperial Seal fabric. Source: www.ebay.com

Left: swimsuit, Lamartine Le Goullon's Sudan fabric. Right: swimsuit, Laura Jean Allens' Imperial Seal.

Ad for men's and women's swimwear in Le Goullon's Sudan, shown in 3 colorways.

Left: Dress in The Gondoliers. Right: dress in Sunspots. Background: Puppet Ballet by Jacqueline Groag.

Henry Rosenfeld's dress company produced the dress above, right, from Laura Jean Allen's Sunspots fabric.  Laura Jean Allen is a designer who deserves to be better known; among other work, she produced many covers for the New Yorker magazine.  Miss Allen is in this brief video.

Home stitchers also used the yardage to make comfortable, stylish clothing, such as the dress on the left above, featuring Albert John Pucci's The Gondoliers print.  For me, this dress was the highlight of the show, as an artifact which demonstrated how a consumer used the design.  I would have loved to have seen images of the prints and ceramics in contemporary home interiors, but this exhibit remains a compelling first-ever survey of an organization which profitably marketed affordable art to an eager audience.

Kudos to co-curators Liz Seaton and Jane Myers, and independent scholar Gail Windisch. There is  an award-winning book accompanying the exhibit, and a much anticipated online index of prints, ceramics and textile designs. Below are details of some of the fabric prints in the exhibit; these designs were created in the early 1950's.

Lamartine Le Goullon, Futuriste.

Anton Refregier, Pioneer Pathways.

Grant Wood, The Ride of Paul Revere.

Ilonka Karasz, Calico Cow (this design was also a New Yorker cover.)

Louise Phillips, Calory [sic] Chart, designed for Youngstown Kitchens.

Witold Gordon, Shell Chest.

William Ward Beecher, Button Button.

Exterior, Silver Center at New York University, housing the Grey Gallery.

I had never visited New York University before, and enjoyed the scene in lively Washington Square, seen below in a handkerchief designed by the Picasso of pocket hankies, Tammis Keefe.

Tammis Keefe, Washington Square handkerchief, linen. Source: www.tammiskeefe.com

20 June 2016

Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Gates in Central Park

Jeanne-Claude and Christo, 2005.

Christo has a new installation, his first in about a decade. So I though I would share some images from The Gates, the delightful deployment of orange fabric-and steel-portals throughout New York's Central Park, installed in February, 2005.   My snapshots of Christo, and his late wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, were taken when we fortuitously glimpsed them during our visit; not the greatest photos, but the images do capture Jeanne-Claude's wonderful saffron hair, perhaps the inspiration for the color of the portals.

A phalanx of 7,532 gates marches through Central Park.

Although my aging feet might disagree, I believe walking is the most enjoyable form of locomotion and this installation celebrated the pathways of Central Park.

The metal stanchions widened to accommodate the walkway width.

Louisa May Alcott, born in November, called that month "the most disagreeable month in the whole year" (Little Women, Chap. XV), but February comes a close second in my view.  The billowing orange fabric, like fluttering sunshine, seemed to bolster and amplify the weak winter light.

The curtains create a proscenium for pedestrians.

Visitors of all ages.

Reflection on water near the pond.

Trail of orange visible through the branches.

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

30 May 2016

Knitting on the rails

Detail of simple stitch pattern.

For several months this year my DH and I have braved America's train service, Amtrak, travelling from our home near Boston to the soul-destroying rabbit warren that is Pennsylvania Station, in New York City.  A nervous traveller, I find knitting helps me relax, and enjoy projects like scarves where the gauge doesn't matter and which don't require too much yarn.

The book  60 Quick Cowls includes a scarf designed by Debbie O'Neill called "Touch of Texture", featuring a simple stitch pattern which, while interesting enough to avoid utter boredom, is not so complicated that Amtrak's frequent surprises - delays, and worse - will lead to mistakes due to distraction.

Lilac scarf: Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light. Purple scarf: Malabrigo Rios merino.

Although the book 60 Quick Cowls is published by the Cascade Yarns company, I've yet to use their specific yarn recommended in the pattern. The lilac scarf in the image used one skein of Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light, a soft alpaca/wool blend; the darker purple scarf utilized one skein of Malabrigo Rios, a washable merino.

Having made several of what I call my Amtrak scarves, I think this accessory looks best in solid colors; even the subtle variegation of the Malabrigo detracts from the texture of the pattern.  Also, when knitting in the round, there's the problem of binding off the last row of what is essentially a spiral of knitting; I found this video useful for addressing that finishing challenge.

Touch of Texture Cowl
Knitted Measurements
Circumference: 26.5”/ 67.5cm
Length: 7.5”/19cm

1   3 ½ oz/100g hank (each approx.. 197 yds/180 m) of Cascade Yarns Highland Duo (baby alpaca/merino wool)
Size 6 (4mm) circular needles, 24”/60 cm long, or size to obtain gauge
Stitch marker

Cast on loosely 132 sts. Join, taking care not to twist sts, and place marker for beg of rnd. Work in simple stitch pat until piece measure 7 ½ “/19cm, end with a rnd 1.  Bind off loosely knitwise.

Block lightly.

20 sts and 30 rnds to 4”/10cm over simple stitch pat using size 6 (4mm) needles.
Take time to check gauge.

Simple Stitch Pattern
(multiple of 4 sts)
Rnd 1 *P3, k1; rep from * around.
Rnds 2 and 4 Knit.
Rnd 3 *Pl, k1, p2; rep from * around.
Rep rnds 1-4 for simple stitch pat.

Cowl in  Malabrigo Rios merino, colorway Jupiter.

25 April 2016

Quilts Japan at the New England Quilt Museum

Kumiko Funaki, Rising Sun, detail.

From January 6 through May 1 the New England Quilt Museum played host to 32 quilts from the 12th Quilts Japan, or Quilt Nihon, international competition. These quilts, curated by Pamela Weeks, displayed outstanding technical mastery and brilliant design skills.

Kumiko Fumaki, Rising Sun.

Rising Sun, detail.

Admiring a quilt.

One show-stopper after another.

Hiroko Nakagama, Swan Song.

Swan Song, detail.

Kiyomi Shimada, Ebb Tide.

Kimiyo Inoue, Recollection.

Recollection, detail.

Yuko Eguchi, Red and Black.

Red and Black, detail.

Junko Nakatsugawa, Night with a Hazy Moon.

Night with a Hazy Moon, detail.

Miwako Mogami, Towards Space.

Towards Space, detail.

Yukiko Nakao, Flowers in the Night Sky.

Flowers in the Night Sky.

Variations on the medallion quilt theme.

Masae Komori, Looking forward to Spring.

Looking forward to Spring, detail.

Yoko Masuda, Happiness in Full Bloom "Pear Flower".

Happiness in Full Bloom "Pear Flower", detail.

Mineko Inoue, Wild Chrysanthemums in Baskets.

Wild Chrysanthemums in Baskets, detail.

Miki Yakita, My Baltimore Album IV.

My Baltimore Album IV, detail.

Hatsumi Satou, Dandelion.

Dandelion, detail.

Kazue Takao, Lake Surface.

Lake Surface, detail.

Lake Surface, detail.

Harue Konishi, Syo #66

Syo #66, detail.

Kinue Ishigame, matrix.

matrix, detail.

Jnatsu Kikuchi, Hasagi in Winter II.

Hasagi in Winter II, detail.

For the most part I decided to let the quilts speak for themselves. However, a word of explanation for the last quilt - in certain areas of Japan, harvested rice stalks are tied to specially pruned trees, called hasagi, to facilitate the drying of the rice. Rice is central to Japanese culture, so it seemed right to end my blog post with this quilt image.