A Review of “David Bowie Is”

by Jay Ruttenberg

Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Photo: Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive 2012.

“David Bowie Is,” the museum retrospective of the singer that recently concluded its run at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, featured virtually every artistic medium imaginable. Included works extended to music, film, video, fashion, and, in Bowie’s portraits of his Berlin running buddy Iggy Pop, painting. One display case featured the star’s long-retired cocaine spoon—a redundancy, considering the exhibition’s inclusion of his “Life on Mars?” video.

The show originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and made its sole U.S. stop in Chicago, where it was greeted with the crowds and fanfare of a blockbuster. The outpouring of interest seems sensible: Absent from public performance for nearly a decade, Bowie is pop’s missing man. His mark remains everywhere; he is nowhere. “David Bowie Is,” which was produced with the subject’s cooperation, if not curatorship, made a resounding case for his significance. To view the exhibition’s many rooms detailing his work in the 1970s was to peak into the 1980s. The phlegmatic British vocals that would dominate a corner of ’80s pop and the nervous mutability of music and media that would define Madonna (to say nothing of Gaga) have roots here; arguably, so does Michael Jackson’s cheesy white Thriller suit. In one displayed video, 1979’s “Boys Keep Swinging,” Bowie appears as his own backup singers, garbed in the elaborate gowns and wigs of female drag. What seems shocking about the video, however, is the main image of Bowie ostensibly as himself, clad in the dark suit of a prototypical mid-80s yuppie. It’s this look—which, for the record, predates Bret Easton Ellis’s debut by six years—that appears to be the video’s true act of drag.

A museum show about a pop star inevitably runs into limitations. In an exhibition of a painter, visitors directly confront the subject’s primary source: the painting is the ultimate art. Even for a multidisciplinarian such as Bowie, the true art lies in his records and performances; the stuff inside display cases can seem secondary, if not trivial. But the aim of this exhibit, where headphone-clad visitors roamed as an army of enthralled zombies, was immersion. It was presented with high-minded care and, at least when covering the years that matter, the exhaustiveness of a box set. Over 400 items were on hand: photographs, handwritten lyrics, a monstrous set of keys from the musician’s Berlin apartment, even an old pocket map for the West Berlin subway. There were also more than 60 stage costumes, most fetchingly the pear-like black-and-white jumpsuit that Kansai Yamamoto designed for the Aladdin Sane tour. Even all these years on, we discover new sides to the pop star: Meet Ziggy Stardust, the world’s most glamorous hoarder.

But the exhibition’s showstopper was drawn from nobody’s closet. Rather, it was the famous video of Bowie performing “The Man Who Sold the World” on Saturday Night Live, in the waning days of the 1970s. The video deserved greater prominence at the MCA, if not an entire museum to call its own; it also would have benefited from the other two songs recorded for the episode. Nonetheless, the clip could move mountains. Bowie is accompanied by Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias, vanguard figures from the nocturnal club world, both clad in monochromatic Thierry Mugler dresses. The men carry Bowie to his microphone as if he is a children’s toy. Wearing a cardboard tuxedo that was designed by the singer and Mark Ravitz under the spell of 1920s Dada, Bowie sings with the bemused detachment of a Martian. Space alien analogies always fit Bowie—after all, we are talking about the Man Who Fell to Earth—but they seem particularly apt for the SNL appearance. At the taping, he was newly returned from self-imposed exile in West Berlin, introducing irrefutably avant-garde notions to a mainstream arena. (Not for nothing did Kurt Cobain cover this song in Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set.) The ’80s—which thwarted the world’s rock stars where no drug or label chicanery ever could—were mere days away. Bowie seemed intent on ending his decade of dominance in spectacular style. The appearance is not an act of subversion so much as it is a sterling media performance—pop as art and back again.

Jay Ruttenberg is editor of The Lowbrow Reader and of its book, The Lowbrow Reader Reader. He has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Photo: Brian Duffy. © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive.

Posted in Exhibitions, Film, Museums, Performance

Second Fashion in Film Festival Symposium

One more symposium on Fashion in Film is is taking place at the CUNY Graduate Center this Monday May 2nd from 5 to 7:30 pm. Among the impressive roster of speakers are Caroline Evans, who will speak on her current research on the early history of modelling and the fashion show.

“Since the emergence of cinema in the late-19th century, the role of costume, fabrics, and fashion has been crucial in conveying an aesthetic dimension and establishing a new sensorial and emotional relationship with viewers. Through the interaction of fashion, costume, and film it is possible to gauge a deeper understanding of the cinematic, its complex history, and the mechanisms underlying modernity, the construction of gender, urban transformations, consumption, technological and aesthetic experimentation.

Jody Sperling will speak on “Loïe Fuller and Early Cinema;” Caroline Evans Michelle Tolini Finamore on “‘Exploitation’ in Silent Cinema: Poiret and Lucile on Film;” and Drake Stutesman on “Spectacular Hats! A New Kind of Identity in a New Kind of Love (1963).” With moderator Amy Herzog and respondent Jerry Carlson.”

The symposium which is organized by Eugenia Paulicelli in conjunction with the Fashion in Film Festival is co-sponsored by the Concentration in Fashion Studies, MA in Fashion: Theory, History, Practice in the MA Liberal Studies Program, Film Studies, Women’s Studies and the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies.

Posted in Fashion Shows, Film, Lectures, Performance, Research/University Programmes

The Fashion in Film Festival comes to New York

UPDADTE: The first in two seminars is taking place this Tuesday April 19th at the Cuny Graduate Center. Titled Metamorphoses: Clothing in Motion from Early Cinema to Contemporary Fashion Film, the seminar is moderated by Eugenia Paulicelli and its speakers include Penny Martin (of GentleWoman), Antonia Lant and Donald Gregg, in addition to festival curator Marketa Uhlirova.

The tireless curator and fashion scholar Marketa Uhlirova brings her "Fashion in Film Festival" to New York City. For this exciting edition of the festival, "Birds of Paradise," she partnered with the Museum of the Moving Image's Chief Curator David Schwartz, Ron Gregg at Yale University, and Eugenia Paulicelli at the Graduate Center, CUNY. The festival, which is hailed as "a major extravaganza in costume spectacle, dance and diabolical glamour," takes place from April 15 to May 2nd at the Museum of the Moving Image, while a seminar on the topic is scheduled for April 19th at the CUNY Graduate Center. For a full program of the festival, please visit the Fashion in Film Festival site.

Posted in Exhibitions, Film, Lectures, Museums

Rodarte: States of Matter

by Ingrid Mida

All photos by Autumn de Wilde

Suspended like birds caught in mid-flight, the breath-taking creations of the Kate and Laura Mulleavy of the Rodarte label are presented as sculptures in an exhibition that opened on March 4 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. On display in “Rodarte: States of Matter” are twenty pieces selected from the designers “White Collection” (Fall 2010), “Black Collection” (Spring 2010), “Red Collection” (2008) as well as the Odile/Black Swan tutus worn in the movie “The Black Swan”. The title of the exhibition refers to the presentation of “inanimate objects in a state of flux, or animation, signifying the temporary states that material can assume.”

Unconventional materials and processes are the hallmarks of the Rodarte label. The Mulleavy sisters subject fabrics, gauze, cotton cheesecloth, wool, rope, leather,and other materials to alchemic manipulations such as burning, stretching, weaving, dying, and stretching. They then layer materials, colours and textures into wearable works of art. With no formal training in fashion design, the two sisters started the Rodarte label in 2005 and in a short time have achieved great acclaim for their work which presents a mix of hard/soft and ugly/beautiful elements. Taking inspiration from the world around them, previous collections have been inspired by concepts such as horror films, architectural elements and California condors. In 2010, an exhibition of their work was presented at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York confirming their place as designers who create art that becomes fashion.

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Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Film, Museums

The 3rd Fashion in Film Festival: Birds of Paradise

Festival Poster

The 3rd Fashion in Film Festival titled “Birds of Paradise” and curated by Marketa Uhlirova is now running in venues accross London–among which are the Tate, the Somerset House, the BFI Southbank, and the Barbican:

“The 3rd Fashion in Film Festival is proud to present Birds of Paradise, an intoxicating exploration of costume as a form of cinematic spectacle throughout European and American cinema.

There will be exclusive screenings of rare and unseen films, plus two special commissions as part of the season: an installation for Somerset House by the award-winning Jason Bruges Studio and a London-wide Kinoscope Parlour, an installation of six peephole machines designed by Mark Garside after Thomas A. Edison’s kinetoscopes.

From the exquisitely opulent films of the silent era, to the sybaritic, lavishly stylised underground films of the 1940s -1970s, costume has, for a long time, played a significant role in cinema as a vital medium for showcasing such basic properties of film as movement, change, light and colour. The festival programme explores episodes in film history which most distinctly foreground costume, adornment and styling as vehicles of sensuous pleasure and enchantment.

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Posted in Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology, Film, Performance, Research/University Programmes

Fashion in Film Presents The 10th Victim by Elio Petri

Still from The 10th Victim (1965)

Coming up Tuesday December 7th is the last installment of the Melodrama: Fashion in Film Series curated by Jeffrey Lieber, Assistant Professor of Visual Culture Studies at Parsons the New School for Design.

The series explores “fashion as a key to the melodramatic imagination,” and has so far included Imitation of Life by Douglas Sirk (1959) and Lili Marleen by Fassbinder (1981), introduced by John Epperson and Tom Kalin, respectively. The last film—perhaps the least known of the three—is the 1965 sci-fi The 10th Victim (orginally La Decima Vittima), directed by Elio Petri. The film, which will be introduced by Evan Calder Williams, stars Marcello Mastroianni and Courrèges-clad Ursula Andress and Elsa Martinelli.

The series is presented by the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons, in conjunction with the MA in Fashion Studies.

Posted in Designers, Film, Research/University Programmes

Fashion Projects Launch/Screening Event!

Boudicca, Film Still, Essay, 2009

The M.A. Fashion Studies At Parsons The New School for Design presents:

A screening to celebrate the new issue of Fashion Projects. The screening features a range of short experimental films on the topic of fashion and memory–the topic of the new issue. They include films by the British-based fashion design duo Boudicca, Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, designer Shelley Fox, and fashion photographer Laura Sciacovelli. The screening is curated by Tamsen Schwartzman and Francesca Granata.

The screening will take place Friday the 23rd of April at 6 pm in the Wollman Hall, 65 West 12th Street. (PS: It will start promptly!). A reception will follow the screening.

The event is free and open to the public. Below is the official flyer: Feel free to circulate it.

SP10 PDF Fashion Projects

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Posted in Designers, Film, Performance, Publications

Spring Fashion Events around NYC

Jane Fonda in Klute

by Sarah Scaturro

This spring there are a lot of events occurring around NYC with fashion as the main focus. Here is a breakdown of the ones that I’ve been able to find, and they are all free! Please leave a comment if I’ve left anything out.

April 9th – Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium
Tonight is the Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium at NYU, which allows the graduating students of the Visual Culture MA program to lecture on their thesis topic. Worn Through has a breakdown of the topics and schedule.

April 13th, 20th and 27th – Fashion In Film: New York City
The brand new MA program in Fashion Studies at Parsons The New School for Design is hosting a fashion in film series for the entire month of April. Curated by Jeffrey Lieber, Assistant Professor of Visual Culture Studies, the series has some fashion classics – Annie Hall and Sabrina – but also some lesser-known films with impressive fashions, such as Klute (Jane Fonda) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Barbara Streisand).

April 15th – 16th Bard Graduate Center Annual Symposium
Bard Graduate Center is having their annual symposium on April 15-16th on the topic of Secondhand Culture: Waste, Value, and Materiality. I can’t wait for to hear Senior Curator of Costume at the ROM Alexandra Palmer speak on “Back to Back: Retro-fitting Fashion within the Museum.” There will also be a screening of the film “Secondhand.”

April 19th – Anna Wintour Lecture
According to NY MAG Anna Wintour is giving a free lecture on the 19th at 6 pm at Pratt Institute.

April 22nd – FIT’s 4th Annual Sustainable Business & Design conference
This year’s theme is Redesigning for a Sustainable Future. Go here for more information.

April 27th – Mannequins in the Museum: Perspectives on Curating Fashion
The lecture I’m most excited for is by Joanne Dolan Ingersoll, a truly talented curator from RISD. She will be giving a lecture for SVA’s Design Criticism MFA lecture series on a topic I have great interest in due to my work: “Mannequins in the Museum: Perspectives on Curating Fashion.”

April 29th – Predicting Color Trends in Fashion
FIT is hosting the seriously hardworking historian Reggie Blaszczyk on April 29th when she’ll give a lecture on the history of predicting color trends. I was fortunate enough to meet her at the Business History conference last year in Milan – I had just read her article on Dorothy Liebes called “Designing Synthetics, Building Brands” in the Journal of Design History. As someone who studies synthetics and has handled Liebes’ textiles, the article about blew my mind.

May 4th – Towards Sustainable Fashion Symposium
In conjunction with the Scandinavian House’s Eco-Chic exhibition, there will be a panel discussion featuring Marcus Bergman, Karin Stenmar, Sass Brown and Eviana Hartman, and moderated by Hazel Clark, Dean of the School of Art and Design and Theory, Parsons: The New School for Design.

May 8th – FIT’s Annual Fashion and Textiles Symposium
This year’s topic for FIT’s Annual Fashion and Textiles Symposium on May 8th sounds great – Americans in Paris: Designers, Buyers, Editors, Photographers, Models, and Clients in Paris Fashion.

May 21st and 22nd – Costume Collections: A Collaborative Model for Museums
The Brooklyn Museum and the Costume Institute are hosting a 2-day symposium about their new costume collaboration. I’m looking forward to seeing both exhibitions this spring!

Posted in Exhibitions, Film, General, Lectures, Museums, Sustainable Fashion, Uncategorized

Fashion+Film The 1960s Revisited

Antonioni, Blow Up still
Still from Michelangelo Antonioni Blow Up.

Opening this Friday at the James Gallery of the CUNY Graduate Center is an exhibition on Film and Fashion, which celebrates the symbiotic relation the two enjoyed in the 1960s. Titled “Fashion+Film The 1960s Revisited,” the exhibition, which is curated by CUNY’s Professor Eugenia Paulicelli, is comprised of dress, photographs, and costume designers’ sketches, as well as screenings of film and TV commercials from the decade.

In concert with the exhibition, is a symposium taking place this Friday the 12th. The symposium, which brings together fashion and film academics with costume designers, will explore the impact these two culture industries had on the construction of individual and collective identities, with a particular focus on fashion and film of the 1960s.

Below is the symposium’s full schedule Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Exhibitions, Film, Lectures

Fashion as Expanded Practice: An Interview with Shelley Fox

by Francesca Granata


From Fashion Projects #3

The work of New York-based British designer Shelly Fox came to prominence shortly after her graduation from the famed Central Saint Martins MA in 1996. Her beautifully- crafted “scorched felt” pieces, which made up her graduation collection, were promptly acquired by Liberty, the London department store known for championing independent designers.

Initially known for her textile experimentation and innovative pattern-cutting techniques, Fox eventually began to expand her practice into installation and film, at first in conjunction with her fashion presentations and later—as she became a research fellow at Central Saint Martins and ceased to produce seasonal collections—as stand-alone research projects.

What characterizes the various permutations of her work is an attention to the materiality of the fabric and garments she creates. This often leads her to explore the connections between clothes, memory and history—an exploration which is backed by extensive research in archives and collections. Perhaps counterintuitively, she combines this interest in the physicality of the clothes with an engagement with a variety of media. Partially thanks to her numerous collaborations, she has expanded her practice into film, sound installations, photography and, through a project she produced together with SHOWstudio in 2002, digital media. This multimedia aspect of her work is matched by a multi-sensorial one, as the sound and smell of the clothes and the fabric often play an important role in her work.

Fox has recently been appointed Donna Karan Professor of Fashion and chair of the soon-to-be-launched MFA program in Fashion Design and Society at Parsons. This has prompted her move to New York, where she plans to convey this expansive idea of what it means to be a fashion designer to her students.

I met with Fox in the West Village coffee shop to discuss her past and present work.

Shelley Fox, FAT MAP Collection
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Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion Shows, Film, From the Magazine, Interviews, Issue #3

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About Fashion Projects

Fashion Projects began in New York in 2004, with the aim to create a platform to highlight the importance of fashion — especially “experimental” fashion — within current critical discourses. Through interviews with a range of artists, designers, writers and curators, as well as through other planned projects and exhibits, we hope to foster a dialogue between theory and practice across disciplines.

We are primarily a print journal, however we also publish web-based updates and interviews (a “digest” version of which you can receive by signing up to our mailing list or via our RSS feed) and are currently working on exhibits based on past and future issues. To order any of our issues visit our ordering page.

We are a nonprofit organization, which has previously received grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

We are currently a sponsored project by the New York Foundation of the Arts, a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization. Contributions on behalf of Fashion Projects can be made payable to the “New York Foundation of the Arts,” and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by the law. For more information please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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