Years ago, I worked on an animated television series called Jem, about a girl pop band called the Holograms. Jem & the Holograms changed their elaborate outfits about a zillion times each episode, and I recall one of the characters remarking, “Clothes are fun.”
Yes. Clothes are fun, aren’t they?
Clothes are also art.
I think of architecture as art that we live in. And I think it is not too big a stretch to view clothing as art that we wear.
Which brings us to the exhibit “The Common Thread: To Sew or Not to Sew” (curated by Elizabeth Mount)at the Tompkins County Public Library.
As a cartoonist, I work with soft, easily manipulated materials like pencil and ink and watercolor. Thus I am always in awe of people who work with heavy materials like wood or steel or stone. It seems like magic to me.
I think the same holds true for the fashion designers of this exhibit—working with cloth and thread and sewing machines (and a revolutionary new laser cutter) and so on.
And, as a writer, working in the arts area, I think I was attracted by the newness of this exhibit for me. I have never written about clothing design as an art form before.
Well, here we go…
Elizabeth (Liz) Tilley
Creative Coat, Hats, Dress
Liz Tilley is the owner/designer of Sugarcoat Couture. Her work is perhaps my favorite in the show. There’s a kind of fantasy element to it that I find irresistible—an almost surrealist touch.
She has two dresses on display. They are both sort of flamboyant and fantastical. They look (to me) like 19th century garb—perhaps for a play or operetta set in a 19th century steampunk parallel universe.
There is woman’s long red dress—the jacket-top covered in patterns of red flowers, and the bottom part with a black dress enveloped by a red cloak with big black polka dots on the exterior, and the interior fabric printed with a gray-and-black-and-white mechanical gear/flowers paisley pattern.
On the clavicle/shoulder area sits a big red flower made of red flower-patterned fabric, with black, feathery pistols and stamens.
And the ensemble comes with two hats—one a black hat culminating in a huge red rose (big as a beach ball) made of fabric, and the other with a large black-and-white checkerboard patterned bow, with what looks like a licorice brownie in the center.
The other dress—a smaller girl’s dress—looks like a white formal prom dress but on the surrealist side—it comes with a white, frilly, feathery, flowered hat with a teacup on it, and the brown-and-white ruffles on the dress seem to be composed of spent teabags.
I love both these things. (My only regret is I would like to see them on live models.)
Joan Reuning is the proprietor of Fibers, located in the DeWitt Mall, “where she and other fiber artists make clothing apparel to sell both off rack and by special commission”.
Ms. Reuning’s work in the show is a collection of elegant women’s jackets (looking a bit like upscale party wear). (They are all made from fabrics from the Finnish fabric company Marimekko—hence the name.)
The fabric patterns are marvelous.
One looks like a flurry of black-and-gray pencil lines on a white background, another a vivid scarlet with a neo-Mayan pattern printed on it, another a white jacket with a stylized black-and-silver tree pattern on it, another with a silver pattern of tall grass upon it, and the last bright red, with broad, minimalist, abstract-expressionist slash of purple running across it.
These things really are elegant.
The Bell Tutu
Rebecca Woodie, at 14 years old, is the youngest of the designers. (She designed and sewed The Bell Tutu when she was 13.)
Here are her words on the work:
“The general idea of my dress was to have a bell tutu (bell shaped, short, and with a flexible hoop sewn into the under skirt to give support) on a denim bodice with a swinging grapevine of ruffles and doodads.”
(That is better descriptive writing than anything I could come up with.)
“A combination of sewing “stashes” provided my materials, such as denim from old work jeans, black tulle and a ruffle leftover from an old prom gown, rhinestones from a beading project, and flowers made of used dryer sheets!”
The final work is wonderful—the surprise of the blue denim combined with the frilly, red-and-white-and-black-netted fabric of the tutu, and the purple-and-black, white-flowered hanging ruffles.
(Again, my only regret is I’d like to see the work on a live human model.)
And since my background is cartooning, I love the 2D drawings of fashion illustration—and Ms. Woodie has an excellent design drawing of the piece. (Although, I’d like to see it displayed a bit larger. I’m an old guy, and my eyesight is going.)
Lea Freni is a student designer at Cornell University. The exhibit booklet tells us: “A rising Senior, Lea Freni has now designed one collection for each of the three years she has participated in the annual Fashion Collective Runway Shows as a student in Cornell’s Fiber Science and Apparel Design program.”
“Collection Vogel is based on Lea’s fascination with paper folding. She describes this work as ‘a contemporary women’s wear line with strong mathematical underpinnings, which celebrates the pure, enigmatic beauty concealed within geometric relationships’”.
Ms. Freni has two works in the show: One a two-piece summer dress ensemble of gray-and-white geometric patterns that I find very beautiful, and the other a white, diaphanous summer dress with foggy gray lines in geometric/psychedelic patterns.
I can see the influence of Japanese paper folding—(underscored by one dress being displayed with an orange origami bird necklace).
And, once again I really love Ms. Freni’s design drawings of the works (and, once again, would like to see them displayed larger).
Items From Senior Collection
Lesley Young was another Cornell fashion design student, graduating in 2014. In the exhibit booklet she writes: “My design aesthetic is defined by the concept of ornate casual clothing, in the sense that luxurious visuals can coexist with the ability to wear clothing comfortably”.
“This notion emerged from combining my artistic background with apparel design. I also tend to design like a collagist by assembling many different elements. This is because I draw inspiration from everything…especially the cross cultural phenomenon that hip-hop has become with the Asian community around the world.”
Again, I really like Lesley Young’s design drawings. They look a bit like the designs of the late, sainted, French cartoonist Moebius in some his classic science fiction graphic albums, and his books of collected drawings and paintings.
Ms. Young’s entry into the show features one of her futurist hip-hop designs…the blouse purple with red-violet bas-relief ruffles and blue jewels…the pants with a pattern of pink-and-white-and-violet flowers.
It does have a sort of ornate futurist casual feel…
Shirts, Jacket, Tie, Bag, Indian Dolls
I wouldn’t mind wearing one of these shirts myself. There is a tie-dye one I find particularly spectacular…an orange-and-green-and-white organic/psychedelic pattern (“made by disabled Nigerian youth”) that is one the most beautiful tie-dye patterns I’ve ever seen.
And the other shirt—a black base with tree patterns of olive green-and-tan-and- white, and wildflower patterns of salmon-and-red-and-white—is a knockout.
I like the dolls, too, in particular a little multi-colored, harlequin-attired one, with a black-and-white Op-art space alien face, and black-and-white piano key arms…
Shibori and Hand Painted Silk Scarves
Here’s how Ms. Bouvet dyes the fabric: “To prepare the fabric for dyeing, pure white silk is folded, pleated, and wrapped around a wooden dowel. The dyes—yellow, red, blue, and black—are applied with a syringe or an eye dropper to produce an array of colors birthed by the playful dichotomy of intention and spontaneity. Once a color combination is set, the fabric is steamed to make the dyes permanent.”
These things are marvelous—a rainbow profusion of iridescent colors and patterns—purple and gold and red-violet and black and orange and yellow and lavender and green and aqua-blue and on and on. Like abstract-expressionist paintings one can wear.
A nice touch: one wrapped around a Tinker Bell doll like a robe…
Quilts from Morrow Creek Farm
This is a woman’s jacket made using “traditional quilting techniques”. It is composed of thin vertical strips of fabric in a variety of intricate patterns—round lake stones, exploding flowers, Art Nuevo-Art Deco-Arabesque psychedelia—(all of them in shades of black-and-white-and-gray so it hangs together design-wise) and then trimmed with purple patterned fabric.
A charming and beautiful piece of work.
• • •
And there are a couple of high-tech exhibits in the show…
One is Spectra Fibers from Professor David Grubb’s Material Science and Engineering laboratory at Cornell. The brochure tells us: “David Grubb’s research into strong fibers led him to work with ‘Spectra 1000’ a fiber manufactured by Honeywell Co. These are continuous, nearly invisible filaments, each one of which can carry a quarter pound. It’s this combination of high strength and light weight that makes it perfect for bullet-proof vests, helicopter armor, high-tech fishing lines and cut-proof gloves for chefs and butchers.” Whoo. Real William Gibson-issue stuff, there.
To me, looking at the photos of the applications, it appears that Sewfree can be deployed to make clothing for superheroes.
My only suggestion might be (having attended the Gallery Night soirée) that the next time they do this, perhaps they could have a runway show with the clothing modeled on real human beings …
Likewise, even though the presentation in cabinets is effective, I wonder if, for the next ongoing exhibit, the clothing could be displayed on manikins … giving it more of the feel of real life clothing worn three-dimensionally on the human form.
Regardless, I’m grateful for the opportunity to cover this exhibition… Enchanted by the newness of the art form to me. •
Clothing is definitely an art that express you and your way of living.
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