Tuesday, May 31, 2016

History Will Teach Us Nothing vs. Starting again

Our written history is a catalogue of crime
The sordid and the powerful, the architects of time
The mother of invention, the oppression of the mild
The constant fear of scarcity, aggression as its child
- Gordon Sumner (better known as "Sting")

On the second CD I EVER bought, "Nothing Like the Sun", I attached myself to one, haunting, specific song the entirety of the following summer.  I was 16-17 at the time. That song, titled "History Will Teach us Nothing", never beckoned me to research exactly what it was talking about, but the sadness of that idea resonated with me.

Walking through the garment district recently, that song started humming in my head again, unsolicited, rekindling that strange urban industrial ennui. Where are the new designers/colors/ideas? Is there room for new?  Can people still make things, pay employees fairly, use new technology, usher in a new era of exciting garments and sewn products?

How would a person research such things in real time?  In the garment district, feeling the drumbeat of the current commercial landscape? I'm seeing buildings being taken down, new hotels and other businesses gradually crowding out my beloved district. So, if you're looking for the lessons in this atmosphere, what teaches you what people will do?  

What people have done. For sure. 

But, then again, maybe not... On May 21st, I walked past a vey busy Zara, and the closed Diesel and Urban Outfitters stores near 59th street. Internet searches will yield a variety of tales about how each of these businesses meet their sales goals.  Are they true? Who knows? I can't personally verify or deny any of it.  many of us find ourselves in the same boat. I started to think that we (in the fashion industry, collectively) may just be repeating the same mistakes over and over and over agin.  The modern day equivalents of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the meandering path one would have to follow to emulate the success of any of the designers profiled on Fashion's Walk of Fame, the emphasis on the more viable careers in fashion given by some noted fashion schools, while steering people away from the hands-on, artistic aspects of the business, the tightening and shrinking of industrial real estate within the very area designated for such pursuits - the writing is on the wall, without a doubt.

Wait... Not so fast...

This post threatens to piggyback a previous one...


On May 17, I led a private Speakeasy for two young designer/partners with beautiful ideas for garments they wish to create.  For this particular Speakeasy, I led them to the places who would be able to provide the services and supplies they need to make their sample pieces, and negotiate for larger volume as their business grows.

What impressed me most about these two, was their willingness to educate themselves and evaluate the feasibility of their design plans and goals before starting.  Much of what I shared with them was optimistic, and some, was a bit sobering. I know that they learned a lot, and were happy to establish new contacts.

Best question of the day (coming from them):

"In your experience, what are the most common mistakes you see new designers make?"

Above all, I think, it is not having a plan/budget.  I gave some specific examples of what happens in such circumstances, and they listened attentively, thinking seriously about what the want to do.  I really look forward to hearing great things about them in the future!

The light in my brain came back on, and I started humming again.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Manus x Machina - a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

My heart grew about TEN sizes yesterday.  I spent hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have spent all of my time since, deciding how I can possibly present this to you, for all of you who don't plan to see it in person.  To all who can, you MUST, and I simply say "Go!"  Run, don't walk.

I saw the exhibit when the museum opened for the day and the crowds were lighter, then returned after lunch at about 2:30 PM, when it became a true MADHOUSE, and the guards were marveling at the sheer number of visitors.  This is a good sign, I think.  So many wildly interested people flocking to a museum exhibit on a Saturday, and staying so long to enjoy it?

"With more than 170 ensembles dating from the early 20th century to the present, the exhibition will address the founding of the haute couture in the 19th century, when the sewing machine was invented, and the emergence of a distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) at the onset of mass production. It will explore this ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and question the relationship and distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear."

-Metropolitan Museum of Art description of the show

The exhibit is huge.  Allow at least 45 minutes to see it all, if the crowd is light, and you care to look at every garment. There is no quick way to see it.  It is free with admission, so you don't have to pay an extra fee to enjoy it.  Thank God for that!

The train of the Lagerfeld dress that graces the entrance of the exhibit

Same dress, front view. Made of scuba knit, this dress is hand molded, machine sen, and hand finished

Do you love scuba knit?  Visit Elliott Berman to get a feel for this fabric.

 I am not the first person to say that this exhibit is not to be missed. 
"You have to run and see this exhibition. It was one of my favorite ever. And you know why? Because it was so much about whispering again ... It was about workmanship, about know-how, about time. And the one thing that impressed me the most was the fact that it was almost silent. I think maybe Anna [Wintour] and Andrew [Bolton] are hearing something that is, maybe, less loud and more silent, and I loved it. We designers are living a very hard calendar: We are changing the show time, we are going through the show-now-wear-now, designers are leaving, designers are coming, a lot of changes. And I'm thinking, What is happening? Someone said, when there is a wind of change, we have two possibilities: whether we build a wall to protect us from the wind, or we build a windmill so we can take advantage of this wind. I think technology embraced those changes, and they used the wind to go forward. Fashion somehow built a wall, a bunker, to protect ourselves and to protect the tradition."
-Alber Ebaz, as quoted in this New York Magazine article

I have so much to say about this exhibit, it will take me some time to write it all down, and I may take some breaks, too, so you can experience it while this post grows, and check in every time you notice a new updated and saved link. It seems I will also need to put my glasses on, and I'm not quite sure where they are at the moment, so yeah... it may take some time.  You may ask questions as I go, I will do my best to answer them if I spot them while I'm working, too.

One thing I noticed immediately, when looking at the presentation of this wedding ensemble and its description (above), is that it truly embodies the purpose of the exhibit.  In the long description accompanying the piece, I could see that the garment's hand work and technology-dependent features were celebrated as equally vital to the construction,  with appropriate respect for each. Credit was given to the historical credentials of the hands, hearts and heads fundamental to its creation. 

Many quotes were posted next to pieces presented in this exhibit.  Many were food for thought, amid those who were clearly PR driven and a bit emptier.  Some resonated strongly with me, and some, I didn't personally accept as gospel, but remain open to others' perspectives.

Quick aside: This exhibit drew fashion experts, lovers, and curious folks alike.  I was absolutely AMAZED at how many people felt they could simply touch and/or fondle pieces in the exhibit.  I saw a service DOG actually nibble and drag the train of a dress before the handler noticed.  I suppose the guards were doing all they could to keep people under control, but I must say, it was definitely a problem.

Mesmerizing in its depth, this dress was 3-D printed. threeASFOUR - interlocking fractal weave that allows for multidirectional movement...

Marinate on the dress above for a moment, if you will. I can't even say I completely understand the "why" behind this dress, but one thing I truly appreciated about this exhibit, is that they completely dispensed with "why", who wore it when, who wore it best, or any event we might be able to associate with such a garment...

This exhibit allows us to divorce ourselves from all of the practical considerations, and focus instead on the pure artistry of it all.

Lagerfeld for Chanel again (2010) - a lovely pink silk rose "dress" that I call a cape.

Pleating - the best subject of the entire exhibit. (Mary McFadden example, above) - by machine

A Fortuny evening dress 1920's - by hand

Love pleating?  Look at what International Pleating can do for your projects!
Balenciaga - machine embroidered lace - 1963
Love lace? Try Sposabella or Fabrics and Fabrics for beautiful laces!

We talk about the hand in the haute couture as if it's an abstract concept, but those hands belong to particular women who have very specific skills, very specific tastes, and very specific personalities, which all come through in their handiwork... It's like writing a song, but the singer changes it through his or her won voice, through his or her interpretation. For us, our Premieres (head seamstresses) are our interpreters.

-Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli

Now, now that's what I call a fantastic thanks for the endless, practically thankless work of the busy hands who make these beautiful works of art! I walked through most of the exhibit, noticing the glamour and praise heaped on the designers, with barely a mention of the individual hands, separate from the historical legacies and corporate identities of any respected design or embellishment "houses".  I was so happy to see it acknowledged in a quote.

Things I noticed during the exhibit:

HEAVY emphasis on Japanese designers. Iris Van Herpen is a designer so heavily featured here, that I wonder if the subtitle of this exhibit should include her NAME!  It is clear that she has quite a body of work of exceptional quality and artistry, but I really felt the number of pieces in this exhibit bearing her name were excessive. 

However, to be fair, I can NEVER get enough Issey Miyake, and he had a very healthy representation of his pieces in the exhibit as well.

For better and more photos, visit the New York Social Diary, where you will find much more detail on pieces shown.  

Below, I offer more of my own photographs and observations from the exhibit.  The big takeaway?  It was inspiring, to say the least, and to quote Giorgio Armani long ago (when I worked for Armani in NYC). 

"In the end, fashion is not such a silly thing..."

Is this actually a dress?  Well. I guess... How would you put it on?  Closures?

Leather flowers... I couldn't convey the beauty of it all here... The photograph doesn't quite capture...
Inspired by this flower waterfall?  Check out M&S Schmalberg 

I will say, without hesitation, that this show ranks as one of the best I've seen in my life so far.  It is well worth your time, attention, and a Pinterest page!

Also note, the gift shop has lots of merch associated with this exhibit, and you will DIE laughing at the prices.  Absolutely die! Seriously, it is hilarious.


Now there is a new map: New York Fashion and Design Exhibits You Must See (listing current and future exhibits and shows on my radar, and worthy of your time/money.  This map will be available for view on Monday, May 23, 2016.

I feel very strongly that this exhibit successfully removed the aspirational emphasis of finely made garments from the conversation, took a step back, and fully, honestly appreciated the ART of these beautiful pieces.  Bravo to the curators and staff of the MET for making this happen!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Led a Speakeasy yesterday! (Spoiler alert... the teacher became the student)

I often lead private Speakeasies for groups when requested, and I must say, this particular private Speakeasy was an unusual one.  

A few weeks ago, a university professor contacted me to schedule a tour of the garment district for her group of business students, as part of a larger New York City exploration during a week's stay in our bustling metropolis. That day was yesterday. Very excited for this experience, I planned an excursion for the students to give them a taste of the layers of the district, rather than the shopping trips I usually lead.  And I'm so glad I did it. On this particular jaunt, I probably learned much, much, much more, and (quite accidentally) got more education out of this effort than the kids did...

560 7th Ave - Parsons School of Design - now gone...
This trip made me clean my garment district glasses, so to speak.

560 7th Ave now - future site of a luxury hotel

I began my talk with them, thinking I needed to squash the idea I suspected the students are likely carrying - that the garment industry is a glamorous one, where dreams and diamonds await all who can dream up a perfect little garment...

At the intro of our tour, I referenced the documentary, The True Cost, explaining that the places I was about to show them would give a lovely idea of all of the business endeavors they could participate in, while letting them know that there is also a hidden layer that they would not see on our excursion, full of underpaid immigrants, unpaid interns, and very hardworking people laboring to keep this fashion illusion going in New York City.  I told them that the image of fashion industry success is often portrayed as local, when it in fact, global. I also explained that, truth be told, they they would probably not be willing to pay what truly ethically made clothing would cost.

This information didn't seem to really surprise them.  And THAT... surprised me. I had clearly underestimated them.

West 40th Street now has only ONE fabric store...

I pointed at offices with "for rent" signs, I indicated places which have vanished or downsized, and I was surprised to see that some of my more recent haunts had vanished, too, and showed them how some local merchants were responding to consumers' global awareness by offering eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.

I was surprised to see troublingly light business in the places I expected to see more activity, businesses not open during posted business hours, signs of stress and decline a bit more intense than I'm used to.

I explained some of the economic challenges of running a fashion business, explaining the predatory loansharking that the practice of "factoring" brings, the intense retail schedule and delivery challenges, the exploitation of workers and businesses in the process, and the drama of it all...

At the end of our short trip, I felt prepared to eulogize my beloved district, feeling that I might be overly nostalgic for the district of my youth, which is very different than the district of today.

I encouraged the students, wished them well, told them some other fun NY activities they should seek out and explore, and bid them goodbye.

And then... I thought about it...

I wandered around a bit to shake off my malaise, went into some of my favorite spots, found some fabulous things, got my creative "buzz" going, and shook it off!

The "secret" district I am always telling you about? The district of mazes, hallways, hidden stores and undiscovered gems is still there!!!  You may simply have to take an elevator, climb a staircase, know the lingo, get a map, make a plan, but you can participate!  

So, really, do we need the "OLD" district?  Would that even make sense now? The new one has plenty to offer.  Yes, we can all embrace it. Put away your tissues. Come and enjoy!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Still here...


An explosion of new posts are coming.  Lots to say, but also LOTS to do!  I will introduce a great deal of information to you all very soon!