Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Counter-Couture at MAD

Embroidered ensemble by Mary Ann Schildknecht, 1972
"While serving a two-year jail sentence in Milan on a hashish smuggling charge,
Schildknecht was taught to embroider by the nuns who ran the prison.
Using torn bedsheets from her prison cell, she embroidered this skirt and top....
Her design and patterns evoke a psychedelic journey
through a fantastical narrative of castles, faces and natural landscapes."

New York's Museum of Arts and Design offers Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture until August 20, 2017. The show explores the forces that led to the explosion of hand-crafted fashion in the 60's and 70's.
"Counter-Couture exhibits garments, jewelry, and accessories by American makers who crafted the very reality that they craved, on the margins of society and yet at the center of an epochal shift. The works on display encompass the ethos of members of a generation who fought for change by sewing, embroidering, quilting, patch-working, and tie-dyeing their identity. Putting the handmade at the center of their daily revolution, they embraced and contributed to establishing a craft and folk sensibility in a seminal moment for the development of American Craft."

Tie-dyed silk by Marion Clayden

Marion Clayden's tie-dyed cloth "crystallizes... the transcendental aspirations of a generation striving for higher meaning." Clayden provided textiles for the sets and costumes of the famous rock musical Hair and by the late 70s had created her own fashion labels with a list of clients including Lisa Marie Presley, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Jewelry by Alex & Lee

"Rather then the precious materials traditionally used in jewelry design, Alex & Lee used found objects to reflect the anti-materialistic hippie creed of recycling and repurposing. This challenged conventions of the genre and ultimately upheld jewelry as an art form in and of itself, echoing the revolution experienced by the discipline in the 1960s."

Birgitta Bjerke's crocheted coats
for Roger Daltrey of The Who and his then-wife Heather

These crocheted coats by Birgitta Bjerke, constructed in fan shapes, "vibrate with kaleidoscopic colours that suggest blossoming flowers, Tibetan mandalas, and patterns inspired by Indian textile traditions."

Tibetan Dream Dress by K. Lee Manuel

Traditional ethnic textiles were a frequent source of inspiration.

Billy Shire's studded denim jacket, "Welfare",
winner of Levi's Denim Art Competition, 1975

Billy Shire's 11-pound jacket features hundreds of hand-set studs, rhinestones, and oversize upholstery tacks, typically used on leather and furniture. It also incorporates an ashtray and a desk bell, which chimes when the jacket is being worn. Shire's creations have been worn by Elton John, as well as by rock musicians in the bands Chicago and the Doobie Brothers.

Yvonne Porcella's Patchwork Dresses, 1972

Yvonne Porcella is best-known as the founder of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates). Her two dresses, above, incorporate ribbons from Germany, molas from Panama, and Victorian antique buttons.

Influences cited in the exhibition include a desire for self-expression, the Black Pride movement (evidenced in the adoption of the dashiki by both men and women), a rejection of a materialistic and consumerist interpretation of the American dream, and the back-to-the-land movement, as well as the interest in psychedelia, in ethnic traditions, and in repurposing that has already been mentioned.

I found the items on display to be of couture-quality design and execution. The exhibition, with its insightful explanatory text, gave me a broader understanding of how the social forces of the 60's and 70's were manifested in the clothing and adornments of the era. It also brought back sweet memories of embroidered jeans, a pink-and-white dashiki, and a pink hand-crocheted bikini (never worn).

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