Saturday, January 30, 2016

Denim: Fashion's Frontier

I've gotta give the FIT Museum a round of applause on this one... 

They took a terribly mundane, quotidian subject, and made it... well... fascinating.

If you go in and ponder the pieces, then explore the work and the descriptions for yourself, you will see what joy can be found in the exploration of these denim pieces.  Looking at its evolution, I can see how incredibly important denim is and has been to our American culture/lifestyles, and what it represents in the "bigger picture".  I think this particular exhibit could have gone much deeper, and been a significantly broader study... but they probably limited the discussion and pieces for exactly that reason.

I will show you some personal photographs from this exhibit for your perusal.  

A denim loincloth?  For swimming?  Yes.

Entirely hand stitched brushed cotton and denim jeans - circa 1840

Repurposed denim jacket - circa 1973

Do you love denim?  Wanna work with denim? I have created a DENIM ONLY map of the garment district.  Click here to see it!  Want more map choices? See the Speakeasy Map page!

On view now at the Museum at FIT - "Fairy Tale Fashion"

The term "fairy tale" is often used to describe clothing that is especially lavish, beautiful, and seemingly unattainable... Each of the 15 tales included in Fairy Tale Fashion, ... was selected for its direct references to clothing or its mention of recurring motifs, such as blonde hair or red roses.
- Colleen Hill, curator 

Today I went to the FIT Museum specifically to experience...

This was a wildly creative exhibit, showcasing the work of many designers I have long admired, and the pieces were just breathtaking. On view until April 16, 2016, and I suggest you visit.

Photography is allowed in this exhibit, and I will share some of my personal photos with you, just to share a taste of how wonderful it all was/is.

A Charles James Gown - La Sirene, 1956

The red shoes

Alexander McQueen Asymmetrical Snowflake dress

And the piece that stole my heart...

Red Riding Hood - Comme de Garcons (Rei Kawakubo) - Spring 2015

While there, I decided to check out the other exhibit (upstairs), which was far more fascinating than I ever would have imagined... 

If you'd like to see the exhibit with a group, you might want to check my friend Peter's blog for meet-up information...

Stay tuned for the next post...

Friday, January 29, 2016

On fur, sweatshops, prison and unfair labor practices

Republishing: Original post January 29, 2013  How far have we come?

"The only things that do not change are dead things. Clothes are exceedingly vital and alive." 
-Jacques Worth, 1927
Which of these is this coat? Alive or dead?

And this leopard?

I have written many posts over the years on this very topic (see my old blog to follow the path this post will lead), trying to wrap my head around all of the complexities of treating people fairly, compensating them for their work, and consuming resources responsibly.  I know these things are important.  I know that people are passionate about these things. I know that everyone, every  single  person on the planet matters equally. I know that we need to take a good look at ourselves, how we fill our closets and bellies, and how we treat one another.

The caption of the original photo above, (from my family's collection) originally from TWA Aviation Press Pictures, reads, "NY International Airport, February 11, 1960. Glamourous Eva Gabor, who appreared on the Jack Parr Show last night, is pictured wearing a leopard coat prior to boarding a TWA Jetliner to Los Angeles where she will enjoy a brief visit."

The airport had not yet been renamed JFK, for obvious reasons... but notice the mention of the leopard coat? My, how times have changed.

Or... have they?

This coat would have been quite a status symbol in those days, but would now be a very unpopular item (to put it mildly), if worn by any celebrity. While such a coat, which once turned heads, now turns stomachs, are animal rights just the popular issue right now, due to the marketing efforts of groups like PETA? Does it matter that her coat was once an actual leopard?  Yes, it does.

This got me thinking (again).  We celebrate the person wearing the item, cooing and sighing as they float down the red carpet, as the TV correspondent breathlessly calls out, "Who are you wearing?" The name assigned to the garment is almost always a brand or a fashion icon, but what an interesting experiment it would be to try those interviews on the bustling streets of midtown Manhattan, or Boise, Idaho, or Phoenix, Arizona.  Would they know?  Would they care?  Would you? Do we?

I know there are always other fish to fry, but I want to specifically turn your attention to an article on sweatshop labor, offered by BBC News. Do we think about the human price paid when we buy $5 T-shirts? According to the article, workers in Burkina Faso would love to stop laboring for such low wages, but, unfortunately, cotton is their only cash crop.

I also noticed an article online this morning about Riker's Island inmates wanting to learn about fashion theory. This is said to be the most popular of the course offerings for the prison population's female inmates. Students also learn, as part of this course, about third-world sweatshops and fast-fashion retailers, in addition to exploring their own potential.

It seems that when we talk about making clothing, we inevitably end up talking about bigger issues as well.  Here in the US, we talk about outsourcing, and how low wages are being paid to foreign workers to keep our clothing prices low.  But we also talk about social consciousness and a more global perspective on how our decisions impact all of us.

Excerpted from a Times Style Section article on the same topic:

"Chyiome handbag designer and Project Runway alum Anna Lynett Moss teaches the class, which tackles cultural identity and design process by narrowing in on provocative style and design approaches. “People with creative training are in a unique position to envision innovative alternatives to some of our deepest social problems,” she explained to Of a Kind. The designer and humanitarian—she is developing a socially—conscious accessories line with the UN–chooses talking points that range from fashion shows to magazine spreads to educate and enlighten."

Read more:

Here's the kicker, on Facebook this morning, I was inspired to click on the face of a person I vaguely recognized from high school, who is connected to another friend from high school.  We weren't friends because we were in different grades and didn't hang out with the same groups of people, but I recognized her name, and noticed she had become an author.  Because we (my family) are avid readers, I clicked through the link to her book, and was just FLOORED... positively FLOORED by the "Jean's Story" section of her profile, and then downloaded the book to my Kindle immediately.   I hope you will click through to the link, but if you don't choose to, just know that she was actually going to the same high school I was every day, just after climbing out of miserable conditions, and assisting her mother in a Chinatown sweatshop. Her name is Jean Kwok, and a video of her discussing the (fiction) book can be found here.

So, I'm having one of those astounding "You mean, right here? In my lifetime?  My peers?" kinda moments.

Clothing.  Everyone gets dressed everyday.  But it symbolizes something far greater. Bigger stories can always be told surrounding the process that results in a wearable item. Heads are needed to design it, hands are needed to create it, and hearts are needed to appreciate and love it. In our Project Runway culture now, we should be more aware than ever what it takes to make our clothing.

So now, here's my bigger point... as you read this, "Who" are you wearing?  You pulled on a sweatshirt you randomly snatched up for a few bucks at a huge discount store.  Or maybe you made it yourself.  Or maybe a well known artist or designer made it. Could your clothing be made in a prison work program, a foreign work camp, a local sweatshop? Does it matter where it came from, and who made it? Yes.  Clearly it does. More than we realize.  And more than we are willing to admit.

Let's make something ourselves, shall we?  With our own hands, head, and heart.  Need to go fabric shopping?  I've got you covered.  If you want to find fun places to shop in the garment district, sharing the creative energy of a group, come along on a Speakeasy tour.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Best compliment ever: "You are great company and encyclopedic in the best way."

I led a private Speakeasy on Tuesday, helping a delightful repeat client who was seeking fabrics for some home dec projects and other creative endeavors.  What a lovely day it was.

While the details of that particular Speakeasy were specific to her needs, I will share what we learned...

Here's the thing: You can shop and find absolutely awesome stuff, but in the home dec world, you probably need to swatch and check before committing to buy.  You may find different things in different stores, and need to check and match between the stores. The frantic pace f the garment district requires you to ask the right questions, which are:

How much yardage of this fabric do you have?  Can you get more of this fabric if I need more later? Do you think you will likely still have this fabric next week, if I need that much time to decide?

For this reason, don't go to the very small stores for home dec if you are still in the planning/designing phase.  Go to the bigger stores, where they are more likely to be able to accommodate your needs.

I must give a shoutout to the wonderful staff at B&J Fabrics on this particular journey, since the salesperson made a special effort to verify that there was enough/could be reordered fabric in which my client showed a special interest.

On a related note, a catalog for FIT's professional development courses arrived in the mail yesterday.  Wildly affordable, short courses for fashion and related businesses.  Looking at the courses on home design, they really look like fun, and a very practical way to even use the information for your own non-professional projects! 

The course offerings are wildly interesting this time around.  Well worth taking a look.  There is even a talk and tour section for trend-spotting, sourcing, and a "How a fashion designer works" course, for those embarking on a fashion career path.  

Most classroom courses in this catalog are three hours on weekday evenings and/or Saturdays, and are just a few sessions.  Can't get there? Some courses are offered ONLINE!

Honestly, I wanna take just about every one of the classes in this catalog.  Call me crazy...

Friday, January 15, 2016

Light my creative fire... Secrets, giggles and a fun Speakeasy!

A wonderful cotton from B&J!

A colorful yarn dance fabric I just adore... (also from B&J)

Yesterday, I led a fun private, speakeasy tour for two lovely women who were very excited to explore the district.  We went to a variety of stores, explored many different types of stores, and I recommended some additional stores which fell outside of our walkable area of concentration for their continued fun, and we had a few blissful hours of wonderful conversation and shopping. 

And... as always happens, I stumbled upon a few hidden surprises during our journey.  Psst... lean in...

  • Did you know that Mokuba Ribbon has a short flight of stairs leading up to what looks like a small meeting area/break room near the back of the store?  Have you seen it? Did you know that is still part of the public area available to customers? Well, even if you have noticed it, were you aware that there is a corner of that area, where the closeout goods and small rolls are kept, and offered at ASTOUNDINGLY low prices?  Now you know, although their load is a little lighter after yesterday... (*clears throat*)

  • I have also long wondered what ever happened to that useful fabric once called "pocketing".  Well, it is sold at B&J, and is a tough-as-nails herringbone weave that could make you confident about carrying keys and change again!

  • Did you know that in addition to deep discounts, Paron has some closeout fabrics they are practically GIVING away?  Stop in, if your heart can handle it.

  • You know this already if you've ever been, but Fabrics & Fabrics is just an explosion of fun fabrics.  Beautiful things you need to see to believe...
We saw other stores, and explored things based on their own desires/interests, but it was a great day.  And the weather cooperated! Hooray!

And, because it's a speakeasy, that's all I can tell you...  The rest is "classified"...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

From several angles... A teen's perspective and update

First things first...

I have finished adding cuffs and a cozy fur loop scarf to my daughter's jacket, as introduced in a previous post, and now that we finally have some legitimately cold weather again, she is happily wearing it.  It is amazing what kind of response we have gotten for such a simple change to a pretty common type of jacket.  It does add a bit of a celebrity vibe to the design, I suppose...  People have gasped and asked where we got it.  A bit strange, huh?

So, about a week or so ago, I walked past my daughter's open geometry book on her desk, and saw this bit of information that spoke to me personally.

Loving that there are some real-life examples of math's applications in artistic pursuits fills me with joy and happiness.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Cozy - specifically for my teen


Current temp is 23 degrees.  After a springlike winter so far, it might as well be  -23 degrees.  Better than the 11 degrees we started the day with, though...

Now, let's say you are in the market for a supremely warm scarf that gives the illusion of an artistically draped sweater around your neck?  Would you want to spend $900 or so for one?   (Note: I typed this long ago, and the price has PLUMMETED since then.  What I am referencing with the links must be a recycled post, apparently, as it has probably been a year since I typed this intro...)

So, as I was saying... $900? I don't think so!  I saw this lovely blog post on a site I have long enjoyed , and was just FLOORED by this idea. So simple.  So cool. Timeless really.

No, I will not be spending that kinda cash.  After all, who doesn't drip a little coffee on themselves every now and then?  And at that price, I'd have to stop drinking coffee, tea, wearing lipstick, and doing just about anything above my shoulders involving color!

But I will say, as the weather grows cooler, and my desire for/dreams of "coziness" are really at their peak, and I have felt some heavenly fabrics in the district that will warm both your bodies and hearts.

So, here we are, at the beginning of 2016, and NY Elegant is one of the stores that has wonderful cozy furs and soft, cuddly things on the 2nd floor.  Oh, you didn't know they have a second floor, did you?

For a bit of fun and practicality, I tried a new idea.

While we all love the allure of no-sew projects, you've gotta admit that it usually requires some quality deal-breaker that makes you wish you had simply gone the extra mile.

However, sometimes not.

So, I'm conceiving a no-sew (well, kinda) that will keep you warm!

Inspired by a weird seated too close to a too-hot radiator problem at her school, my daughter's ruined Calvin Klein made-of-weird-meltable-fabric-and-not-quite warm-enough-anyway winter jacket needed some help to be wearable again.

cuff of jacket, after radiator problem

Let's take some fur and create a new cuff! And... maybe collar, too?
So, I'm not sewing to create this design change. Well, not much. I'm tearing the backing of this faux fur, which creates a straight strip, to make cuffs for the jacket, giving the jacket a "Zsa Zsa" kinda feel.  I'll reveal when I'm done (maybe) tonight.