Tess Giberson, Fall/Winter 2003-04
I have been meaning to write about the exhibit New York Fashion Now, which is currently up at the V&A in London. Curated by Sonnet Stanfill, who originally hailed from this side of the Atlantic, the exhibit gave an interesting and thorough account of recent developments in New York Fashion in the context of drastic changes in the city’s economic and cultural landscape following September 11.
Rather refreshingly, the show focused largely on new and often emerging designers, giving its due to US designers—who can be underrated within the US borders, where Europe is generally equated with better fashion and good design. Personally, I find this association rather puzzling, having grown up in Italy and seen a fair share of bad European design ranging the gamut from hideous post-war architecture to perennially tight pants coupled with the most conservative of attires. Thus, the exhibit was a much-needed argument for the validity of New York–based fashion designers, one made all the more effective as it was staged outside of the city confines, and within what is probably Europe’s preeminent museum of decorative arts.
The exhibit was arranged in four separate sections:
Sportswear chic, Atelier, Avant-Garde, Menswear and Celebrity, and included twenty designers whose company varied significantly in size. Among the designers were Zac Posen, Mary Ping and Behnaz Sarafpour (in the Sportswear section) Maggie Norris and Jean Yu (in the Atelier section), Duckie Brown and Christian Joy (in the menswear and celebrity section, respectively). The Avant-Garde section (which interested me most) included As Four, Tess Giberson, Slow and Steady Wins the Race and Miguel Adrover. In addition to garments and accessories, two of the four designers were represented by fashion shows. On view was As Four Puppencouture Show from 2000, and Tess Giberson Fall/Winter 2003-04 collection, featuring a shelter-like structure made partially of the clothes later worn by the models. The fashion shows were a nice addition to the otherwise static display and left me wishing that more moving images were included in the exhibit.
What was perhaps most interesting about the avant-garde section of the exhibit is the fact that two of the designers (Tess Giberson and Adrover) were no longer in business by the time the exhibit was installed. (Stanfill had started planning the exhibit three years prior.) Upon being asked as to whether she saw an inherent incongruity between the notion of New York design and the avant-garde , the curator mentioned that one of the hindrances to an understanding of New York as an avant-garde fashion city is the preeminence of New York fashion image as one of sportswear and of American fashion design as inherently commercial. This point is, of course, compounded by the fact that a number of designers in this section come from abroad. Ultimately, one wonders whether there is something more deeply ingrained in the American resistance to thinking of fashion as a meaningful cultural and artistic product. Perhaps this resistance is somewhat indebted to a once popular Greenbergian understanding of art, and in particular American art, as a “pure” and ultimately masculine sphere or perhaps it simply has to do with the alleged American pragmatism, which ascribes to clothes a primarily utilitarian function.
If you end up missing the actual exhibit (which is up until September), the well-designed and comprehensive catalogue written by Stanfill (and distributed in the US by Abrams) makes for a great substitute!