Bill Cunningham: Multimedia Man

by Jay Ruttenberg

Still from "Bill Cunningham New York"

Still from "Bill Cunningham New York"

For the fourth Fashion Projects print issue (Fashion Projects #4, 2013), Jay Ruttenberg wrote about how Bill Cunningham's work foreshadowed today's multimedia journalism.

Recent years have not exactly been a walk in the park for print journalists, a comically beleaguered species plagued by technological hurdles both real and imagined. Yet of all the indignities the modern newspaperman faces, perhaps the most absurd has been the lunge toward corny multimedia reporting. Publishers love to trumpet their hyperactive ventures into unfamiliar mediums. But from a reader’s perspective, most of this content proves inane. Wading into the website of even the strongest magazine or newspaper can be entering perilous territory: Music journalists natter endlessly over streamed songs. Slideshows tick on interminably, like the unedited vacation photos of a bore. Pasty film critics surface onscreen as if trapped by the light of day. Gifted journalists turn up in wacky videos that can verge on hack comedy routines.  

Of course, in rare instances this multimedia content can prove riveting. One suspects that as publications open their ranks to a generation of journalists who came of age under the Internet’s spell, such reporting will flow more naturally alongside its print foundation. In the meantime, readers must make due with sporadic triumphs. And when it comes to the realm of the web extra, few journalist heavies flourish like Bill Cunningham, the famed New York Times fashion photographer. 

Cunningham is an unlikely master of this medium. He is in his 80s—a dinosaur even by Times standards—and a suspected Luddite wed to actual film. He is said to have come by his Times web segment, a spinoff of his weekly On the Street article, reluctantly. His bedrock remains the two columns he mans in the Sunday Styles: the print version of On the Street (a patchwork of his street fashion pictures) and, to a lesser extent, Evening Hours (the society photos that encompass his less exciting beat).

Still from "Bill Cunningham New York:

Still from "Bill Cunningham New York:

 

On the Street is an unusually whimsical column—among the quirkiest and most personal features in the Times. Both its print and web versions are devoted to the photographs Cunningham takes of women (along with the occasional man or dog) stepping out in Manhattan, generally in parts north. Each column centers around a loose trend that develops in Cunningham’s eye as he putters around town on his bicycle: a sudden wave of plaids, vests, shirtdresses, stripes, young people walking the High Line’s ad hoc catwalk, Upper East Side dowagers who have made bold millinery selections, or women emulating Holly Golightly. In the paper, the pictures run small—he squeezes over 20 shots into half a page—with no captions or IDs. A brief paragraph at the center explains the week’s theme with classic Times sobriety. “Echoes of Ms. Hepburn’s boat necks are reappearing,” the Breakfast at Tiffany’s column states. “One wondered what Holly would look like today.” 

The multimedia version of On the Street takes this framework and blows it up. As the same photographs progress in a slideshow, Cunningham speaks of his week’s gleanings in a funny voice juiced with an old Boston accent and the infectious glee of a cultural enthusiast. “Something mahvelous has been happening when I’m out photographing people going to work on Fifth Avenue,” his Holly Golightly segment begins. “I saw young kids leaning against Tiffany’s façade, and they were having breakfast. And I thought, Wait a minute! … Look at these people! They’re reflecting Holly Golightly, 50 year later. It was very curious! And then I started to wonder, Well, what would the present-day Holly Golightly wear?” As the segment ticks on, he posits about a contemporary Holly’s continued affection for black while commenting on the specific looks of select subjects. 

The photographer delivers these pieces with a charming off-the- cough air. Apparently, this is no put-on. In Bill Cunningham New York, Richard Press’s fine documentary about the photographer that opened at Film Forum last year, Cunningham is depicted taping his weekly segment. He sits at a table, takes a few seconds to gather his thoughts, and then starts riffing into the microphone in apparent stream of consciousness. Whereas at other points of the movie the photographer is portrayed torturing his designer with painstaking layout decisions and deadline-bending edits, he approaches the online narration nonchalantly, as if he is gossiping with a friend. The effect is wondrous: Suddenly, the website of the world’s greatest news organization appears hijacked by an elderly eccentric, sounding off in a highly idiosyncratic manner about his field of expertise. In discussing his pictures, the photo journalist becomes part professor, part artist, part radio DJ, and part town nut. Digesting the segment is a wholly unique experience. 

Perhaps more pertinently, with his web columns the octogenarian achieves a goal that has eluded sundry younger journalists, availing himself of new technological possibilities without abandoning his original print mission or submitting to wanton Internet glitz. Rather, Cunningham uses the web to illuminate—and, arguably, improve upon—his work for the newspaper. The On the Street columns that run in the Sunday Times (and are faithfully archived on the website alongside the videos) speak to the fashion cognoscenti. To readers such as myself, unversed in the trade, their significance can grow fuzzy: What, exactly, unites these photographs? Why does it matter that this hodgepodge of Midtown office-workers are wearing scarves? Aside from the fact that they appear to be loitering outside of Tiffany & Co., how are these women channeling Truman Capote? It is with his web performances that Cunningham draws out the map. Within a few minutes, even a fashion ignoramus fully understands the week’s spread of photographs and is dosed with the photographer’s teeming zeal for his subject. The segment offers the perfect application of a multimedia feature. It is cultural criticism at its absolute finest.

Bill Cunningham on Deconstructivist Fashion

BILL CUNNINGHAM, PHOTOGRAPHS oF MARTIN MARGIELA, SPRINg/SUMMER 1990, "The COLLECTIONS" DETAILS, MARCH 1990

BILL CUNNINGHAM, PHOTOGRAPHS oF MARTIN MARGIELA, SPRINg/SUMMER 1990, "The COLLECTIONS" DETAILS, MARCH 1990

In remembrance of the great fashion photographer and critic Bill Cunningham, we are showing some of his lesser-known work, which he did for Details magazine in the 1980s and 1990s. During those years, Details was strikingly different from its later Condé Nast incarnation as a men’s style magazine. The magazine centered on fashion and featured extensive coverage of the Paris shows, often exceeding 30 pages—both written and photographed by Cunningham.

It is in these pages that Cunningham coined the term “deconstructivist” fashion to refer to the work of Martin Margiela. Against commonly held beliefs that tie the term to Japanese designs from the early 1980s, it  was first used in the English language by Cunningham to refer to fashion, in an article he published in Details of September 1989 to describe Martin Margiela’s autumn/winter 1989/90 collection, which was shown in Paris in March 1989. Only retrospectively was the word used to refer to Japanese designers of the 1980s. (Francesca Granata, "Deconstruction Fashion" The Journal of Design History, vol. 26, 2)

BIll CunninghAM, PhOTOGRAPHS Of MArTIN MArgiela SPRING/SuMMER 1990, "The Collections" Details March 1990

BIll CunninghAM, PhOTOGRAPHS Of MArTIN MArgiela SPRING/SuMMER 1990, "The Collections" Details March 1990

Cunningham used the term in its literal sense of undoing, taking apart a garment and accompanied his written articles with beautiful images from the collections:

Martin Margiela, formerly a Gaultier assistant, in this, his second collection on his own, provided quite a different vision of fashion for the 1990s: a beatnik, Existentialist revival … The construction of the clothes suggests a deconstructivist movement, where the structure of the design appears under attack, displacing seams, tormenting the surface with incisions. All suggest a fashion of elegant decay.

    Bill Cunningham, ‘The Collections’, Details, September 1989, 246.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, IMAGES AND TEXT ON MARTIN MARGIELA, AUTUMN/WINTER 1989, DETAILS, SEPTEMBER 1989

BILL CUNNINGHAM, IMAGES AND TEXT ON MARTIN MARGIELA, AUTUMN/WINTER 1989, DETAILS, SEPTEMBER 1989

 

BILL CUNNINGHAM, IMAGES AND TEXT On MARTIN MARGIELA, SPRINg/SUMMER 1990, DETails, MARCH 1990

BILL CUNNINGHAM, IMAGES AND TEXT On MARTIN MARGIELA, SPRINg/SUMMER 1990, DETails, MARCH 1990

 

A Review of the Museum at FIT's "Uniformity" Exhibition

By Alani Gaunt

(left) Comme des Garcons (Rei Kawakubo), ensemble, 1998, wool, Japan, museum purchase; (right) U.S. Army World War I Service Uniform, 1914-1918, wool, USA, Gift of Mrs. Roswell Gilpatric. Photo courtesy of Museum at FIT.

(left) Comme des Garcons (Rei Kawakubo), ensemble, 1998, wool, Japan, museum purchase; (right) U.S. Army World War I Service Uniform, 1914-1918, wool, USA, Gift of Mrs. Roswell Gilpatric. Photo courtesy of Museum at FIT.

“When the average American thinks of uniforms, they immediately think of something constricting, stifling their individuality…” In the Uniformity exhibition currently on display in the Museum at FIT’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery, curator Emma McClendon explores the interplay between uniforms and fashion, attempting to challenge certain assumptions about their social function.

The exhibition is held in the gallery reserved for showcasing the Museum’s permanent collection, which consists primarily of American pieces. McClendon uses this constraint as an opportunity to explore not only the historical development of uniforms and their interaction with fashion, but also their unique cultural significance in American society, and the tensions they create with individuality, gender, and class.

Uniformity opens with a cross section of the types of uniforms on display in the rest of the gallery: military, work, school, and sport. These pieces are complimented by interviews with American fashion designer Thom Browne, and Stan Herman, whom McClendon calls the “uniform guru” behind such iconic looks as those for McDonald’s, TWA, and FedEx. 

Installation photo courtesy of Museum at FIT.

Installation photo courtesy of Museum at FIT.

The intention behind this, according to McClendon, is to provide viewers with an entry point for different ways of thinking about uniforms and uniformity in fashion. “One thing that I found very useful about Thom Browne’s interview is that he offers ideas that are a bit counterintuitive. He sees ‘individuality in uniformity,’ he finds confidence in uniforms. Rather than stifling individuality, when everyone is dressed in the same thing, the individual comes to the fore,” McClendon explains during a walkthrough of the exhibition, noting the contrast between Browne’s perspective and what she refers to as Americans’ “cultural resistance” to uniforms.

 Military uniforms dominate the first half of the exhibition. McClendon notes that they have had the greatest impact on not only fashionable aesthetics, but on those of other types of uniforms as well. The pieces in this segment illustrate the development of such fashion staples as the army field jacket, the Breton striped shirt, and the sailor suit, from their utilitarian origins in the military to their use in high fashion. They also provide context for the military inspiration behind some of the aesthetics of work and school uniforms in the latter half of the gallery.

Each type of uniform is displayed in the center of the platform, flanked by the fashionable pieces it inspired. This structure highlights the ways in which the visual codes of official uniforms are subverted through their use in high fashion. Masculine becomes feminine in the appropriation of military soutache embroidery into women’s fashionable dress, illustrated by a recent Ralph Lauren garment. Camouflage on a Savile Row suit calls attention, rather than concealing as originally intended. The utilitarian apron of working class service uniforms becomes purely decorative in delicate Chanel couture. 

(left) Ralph Lauren, "pantsuit," Fall 2013, wool and synthetic blend, USA. Gift of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. (center) Man's Royal Artillery "mess dress" jacket, circa 1900, black and red wool, metallic thread, England. Gift of Adele Simpson. (right) Man's King's Royal Rifle Corps "mess dress" jacket, circa 1900, green wool, red wool, black braid, England. Gift of Adele Simpson. Photo courtesy of Museum at FIT.

(left) Ralph Lauren, "pantsuit," Fall 2013, wool and synthetic blend, USA. Gift of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. (center) Man's Royal Artillery "mess dress" jacket, circa 1900, black and red wool, metallic thread, England. Gift of Adele Simpson. (right) Man's King's Royal Rifle Corps "mess dress" jacket, circa 1900, green wool, red wool, black braid, England. Gift of Adele Simpson. Photo courtesy of Museum at FIT.

Similarly, the exhibition illustrates how feminine uniforms -- once intended to signify respectability or at least professionalism-- become highly sexualized through fashion, as with the nurse’s uniform. Considered the first respectable profession for women in the 19th century, nursing required a uniform which conveyed as much. Uniformity displays two early nurse uniforms which drew their visual vocabulary from ecclesiastical dress, suggesting purity and modesty, while maintaining fashionable silhouettes which indicated that the wearers were ladies of a certain station. As McClendon puts it, “Modesty is the armor of the working woman in the 19th century.” Nurses’ uniforms eventually became sexualized in the 20th century; the women’s liberation movement and the entrance of men into the profession changed the field, and the nurse’s uniform was abandoned in favor of more unisex and utilitarian scrubs. According to McClendon, “Gender roles are a very important topic in considering where we are going in uniform design as we enter into this period of gender fluidity. This ideal of a woman’s uniform being becoming and her gender being clear is not necessarily what contemporary society wants out of a uniform.”

The last section of the gallery finishes with pieces exemplifying the increase in the importance of branding in uniforms and fashion, with the first McDonald’s uniform designed by Stan Herman in 1975, and a collection of school and sports uniforms and the fashion pieces influenced by them. McClendon uses a final video display of fashion performances by Chanel, Gaultier, and Thom Browne to illustrate how pervasive uniforms are in fashion, and how their meaning is dependent on social context and coding. Uniforms are inextricably linked with notions of authority, gender, and class. This is particularly evident in the Chanel performances set in a brasserie and an airport terminal. As McClendon points out, the audience’s attention is drawn to the models in uniform-inspired couture, while the backgrounds of the scenes are populated by people in actual uniforms -- who act as little more than set dressing.

Be they high fashion or official, individual or institutional, uniforms are in fact everywhere in American society. Uniformity provides an entry into making visible and unpacking the layers of social coding we use to simultaneously interpret uniforms and overlook their importance in our daily lives and in our fashion.

Interview with Bridget Donahue of Bridget Donahue Gallery

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Cianciolo_1

by Mae Colburn

Gallery view, Susan Cianciolo's ‘if God COMes to visit You, HOW will you know?...,' Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York City

Bridget Donahue Gallery, which opened in Chinatown in February 2015, can definitely claim a two-for-two. The New York Times described the Gallery’s inaugural show, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s ‘Origins of the Species’ (February-April 2015) as ‘prophetic’ and the New Yorker named its current show, Susan Cianciolo’s ‘if God COMes to visit You, HOW will you know? (the great tetrahedral kite)’ (May-July 2015), ‘enchanting’ and the gallery ‘terrific.' Congratulations are in order, both to the artists and to the owner, Donahue herself.

Meanwhile, the show goes on. Donahue describes opening and closing the gallery five days a week, flipping on the lights and clipping the little flower. During this interview, which took place over Jessi Reaves’ ‘No Reason Work Table’ (2015), a delivery arrived, a pair of shoes to be placed among the costumes, quilts, and kits (which Donahue describes below) that comprise Cianciolo’s show. The shoe’s bag, an actual shoe bag, was noted. Only Cianciolo, Donahue smiled, would have one on hand. In the kits, most of which are boxes, are slippers, sketches, sneakers, and much more. A film, played on a laptop peeking out of a cardboard box, presents conversations about fashion, some with Cianciolo’s former students. Fashion is here, but it is bundled and wrapped, stitched, transformed. Cianciolo is a constellation artist and fashion is one of her many stars.

Mae Colburn: Let’s start with the gallery. What prompted you to open this space?

Bridget Donahue: I told people I never wanted to have my own gallery. I thought you had to be a rich person to do it. I really respect galleries, the tradition of it, and I learned from people who take it seriously. That was the hardest thing about the transition – I actually loved where I worked. It was my dream job in many senses.

My three jobs were Gladstone Gallery, D’Amelio Terras, and Gavin Brown's enterprise. And Cleopatra’s, but that wasn’t a paycheck. That was me tithing my own wages with a group of people.

There are different models, but if you stand to make money from an artist, in my opinion you should be working for that 50% and constantly promoting them. That’s the biggest contribution I can make, is the fact that I do run my mouth pretty energetically when I’m into something. With a gallery, you invest in things, you help produce artworks, you help move them around, you photograph them, et cetera.

MC: You really support your artists. It sounds like you’re moving into the market with a lot of integrity.

BD: That’s the hilarious reality is that the first couple shows here are not particularly easy sells, the joke being that my commercial gallery starts off being wildly anti-commercial. But I believe in them so much that it doesn’t matter. And things are paying for themselves. There’s a great tradition at Gavin Brown’s enterprise of doing seemingly non-commercial shows, but he’s just this incredible person who can actually turn that around.

This [space] is a little more of a humble comparison, but it’s funny too. Sometimes people come to this show [‘If God COMes to visit you...’] and are like ‘Ok, is anything here for sale?’ They can’t believe that Susan would be willing to part with some of this stuff. It’s so meaningful and impossible to make again or get back. She’s cared for these things for sometimes up to twenty years and part of the whole exhibition is about that letting go, which blows my mind.

When Alex Fleming, who curated the archival work in the back and the costumes [in front], introduced me to Susan, he thought I would be interested in the photo archives. And I think this is absolutely part of the story, but I never for once saw an exhibition of framed photos, framed watercolors, and framed paintings. And at the same time I never saw an exhibition with clothing.

It was the second I saw those boxes that I was blown away. And then when I found out that the kits were actually part of her fashion line and that she actually continues to organize and think about and collect things in these tailored boxes, I was like, ‘we have to show these, they’re unbelievable.’ It was that idea that the paintings and pictures and archival clothes and all these other precious things are just taped together.

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Susan Cianciolo, Large Doll Box, 1995-2015, Photo by Katya Reily

MC: That’s the thing. Both of the artists you’ve shown work across media: paintings, photographs, cardboard, tape. How do you approach the labels that often accompany these different ways of working?

BD: I’m thankful that I don’t see such categories existing - that could be in part because craft education was one of the first art-education experiences I had - via the social sciences, I studied Anthropology, within that category, craft is art. A more euro-centric, academic appreciation of Art helps me to understand a socialized history of forms and predecessors but it does not aid me in understanding when I feel work is important.

Nothing about this project is about trying to import craft or fashion or design into an art context. I’m not thinking, ‘this is where craft meets art.’ I’m not interested in that position. It’s like if you label anything, like when somebody says they’re vegan and then somebody busts them for wearing a leather belt. I don’t want to say, ‘I’m just going to show good things that I care about,’ because that sounds almost self-righteous or even naive, but that is more genuinely what I want to do. It will be interesting to see what I’m interested in, but it will take a while to define that.

For now, with Lynn and Susan, as much as people want to assume the program has a strategy, it was also an easier reality. I got the space and moved in in October 2014 and opened in February 2015 and it’s really hard to ask an artist to make a show in that amount of time. It’s easier to show people that have existing work and are a little more confident in what that work is, and also that are eager and willing to participate. That’s a huge thing. It’s about collaborating with a really exciting, relevant person in my mind and learning from them.

MC: Is there anything you would like to add about this show, maybe in the context of Fashion Projects?

BD: One thing in the context of this publication was how much I thought Susan’s show would attract an audience that I hadn’t met in past experiences, and it did. It’s kind of like living vicariously.

Also, the opening was really young. That’s my first and favorite person to impress - an art student or a young working artist. If those people are into a show, that makes me most happy. Then of course everybody else will be psyched because those are the people who are leading the discourse, or where all the energy kind of bubbles from. So it’s that audience, I’m eager to impress. After that I was really interested in meeting different people from fashion, because Susan embraces that world. And yet I also feel really strongly that the works in Susan’s show stand-up to any kind of hard line capital ’F’ fine art.

For people who consider themselves designers, maybe their project is made better by tons of funding and bigger production lines, but I think that in many ways for Susan that never felt like the right move. It wouldn’t better her project. That to me feels like an artist’s decision, not a designer’s decision. It’s really courageous. You couldn’t have created a better ascendency within the context of fashion, but she didn’t take that sort of golden road laid out for her. It’s incredible to me that someone can keep up that devotion to making something.

MC: That’s true, but I have to hand it to you. You’ve made something great here, too.

BD: And that’s still totally mind-boggling to me. To come into the gallery, flip on the lights and, clip the little flowers for the day. I show up every day like it’s my job. It’s refreshing to slowly realize I know how to do it.

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Gallery view, Susan Cianciolo's ‘if God COMes to visit You, HOW will you know?...,' Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York City

‘Alternative Fashion Strategies’

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Sansone1_CHC_8045_edit_color

by Mae Colburn Indigo dyeing workshop at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Gallery. Photo: Chris Hyun Cho

‘Alternative Fashion Strategies: Design Incubator with Green Eileen’ (March 30-April 5, 2015) in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at The New School’s Parsons School of Design was a little like a game of Twister. Students, designers, farmers, and members of the public maneuvered around a portable loom, a knitting machine, an industrial sewing machine, and various other hand-crafting implements stationed throughout the gallery to examine the interplay between industrial manufacturing and local production, testing areas of contact and overlap. Throughout the week, design samples accumulated on walls, tables, drying racks, and even on the radiators, whether de- and re- constructed sweaters, needle-felted fleece, or indigo dyed garments. Some were made in advance of the exhibition and others at workshops held throughout the week on topics ranging from fiber processing to bengala dying to machine knitting. A sense of purpose coursed through the exhibition, and so did a sense of excitement, the kind that emerges when people and materials meet.

Laura Sansone

, first interviewed on Fashion Projects in 2013, curated the exhibition. Our conversation shuttled between the work she does with fiber farmers in the Hudson Valley and with designers in New York City, tracing what she envisions can become a tight-knit local supply chain.

Mae Colburn: Let’s start with some of the broader ideas at work. What motivated you to put on the exhibition?

Laura Sansone: Well, I’m interested in this interplay between industrial manufacturing and local production, specifically agrarian businesses, and specifically how those things can work together […] I think it can really help to create economic diversity and grow these smaller enterprises. That’s what motivated me to do this project and what motivates me in my own work as well. […] It’s not always appropriate for them to work together, but I think that it’s a way to start to see a shift, those moments when these two entities can come together - it can shift the economic power and be a good way to rethink how things are structured.

MC: And the idea to shape this into the ‘Design Incubator’?

LS: This started off as a partnership between Eileen Fisher and the students here at Parsons. The Green Eileen program is an initiative with Eileen Fisher where they take back clothing from their consumers, so they have people send back clothing and they resell it in green Eileen stores but the secondhand clothing that they can’t resell they call ‘third life’ and they ask designers to repurpose it. So I had been working on that, and in my quest to repurpose her clothing, I was mixing it with materials from the Hudson valley, from Upstate New York, […] so I started using those materials in combination with the repurposed secondhand clothing, and that became the parameter for the course I teach at Parsons, and also for this partnership. That’s really where this all began.

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Eileen Fisher sweaters dyed with indigo and unraveled to be re-woven. Photo: Chris Hyun Choi

MC: So, there were prototypes on display and workshops. There was also a printed material on the walls. How did all of this come together?

LS: The prototypes were from students, and then we added to them during the exhibition. We had lots of workshops going on, and as we generated work we would hang it - so it was kind of an incubator where things were growing. The printed matter came from someone that I had met at the Textile Society of America conference in 2014, Helen Trejo, who is a PhD student at Cornell University and is writing her dissertation about the feasibility of a Fiber Shed in New York State. So we’ve been exchanging information over the past year and I asked her for permission to display some of her research and so a lot of the diagrams that were included in the exhibition were from her. She had some really great maps that showed where the mills and fiber farms are in New York, so that sort of located those for people who came into the gallery to see the work.

MC: What was a highlight of the exhibition for you?

LS: One highlight for me during this exhibition was having people from the farming community come and actually speak to the students about their experiences as farmers and fabric producers. We were talking about the supply chain and one of the farmers who came actually said, ‘I’m going to start right at the beginning of it, and I’m going to tell you what I feed my sheep,’ and I thought that was so incredible to have fashion and design students sitting there and listening to this and making that connection, that it starts with the fiber that comes from the animal, that it starts with the diet, and how that effects the quality of the fiber and the form – I think that’s a great lesson.

MC: To encourage designers to consider other variables beyond say, color and drape?

LS: That’s right. So for me, waste is essential. It’s something that I’ve always cared about and wanted to consider as a designer. Like, where do my cutoffs go? If I’m generating product, what kind of impact does it have? And with the natural dyes as well, we use the waste from farms, we use the carrot tops and concord grapes that you can’t sell – there’s this link to the origin of where things come from, and how that can be integrated into the design process. […] So [at the workshops] a lot of students were deconstructing sweaters and we were re-knitting them and I thought that was really exciting. I also have students who are working deconstructed sweaters into felted pieces, which is really great – mixing the fleece with the Eileen Fisher’s mohair and merino and cashmere materials.

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Map of New York State Fibershed showing fiber farms and mills. Helen Trejo Fiber Science & Apparel Design, PhD Student, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.

MC: I thought it was interesting that the word ‘sustainable’ didn’t appear in any of the material related to this exhibition.

LS: I was trying not to because what happens is that if things get overused – language – they become diluted and people start to dismiss it as something that isn’t important. So I think it’s really useful to always be rethinking things and reframing them. I think that’s part of growth in general. […] I was also trying to steer away from this word ‘artisanal’ because I think that’s also becoming diluted, but that it’s actually really important because ‘artisanal’ can talk about a smaller way to produce things, you know. It can talk about localizing things.

MC: But you did use the word ‘fashion’?

LS: Of course, absolutely, because I really want the fashion industry to play a critical role in changing things. I think it’s so important, because they’re responsible for a lot of the waste that we see in the supply chain – where we’re diminishing value where we could be increasing it. So yes, but I also see what I do as being completely cross-disciplinary. It’s dealing with fashion. It’s dealing with interiors. It’s dealing with architecture - we’re starting to think about how wool can be used as insulation, wool that is waste wool.

MC: So how do you envision the project moving forward?

LS: Well, I would like some designers, especially those who are located in New York and who are on this large-scale level, to build ties with some of these local artisans. They’re doing it globally, but I would really like to see it happening here in the U.S. So that’s something that I would like to see, and for me as a professor, I try to get my students to take on the responsibility of educating consumers. I think that trying to encourage them to design ethically and then to sort of take on this role of educating - I think it’s really necessary for designers: to take on this big task of shifting consumer behavior. You know it’s huge; in a capitalist system, it’s a huge thing to take on and designers need to take on that role.