Coming up this Tuesday May 10th as part of the Parsons Festival is a panel discussion with Tim Gunn and Scott Schuman:

"From ‘The Fashion Show’ on television, ‘The Sartorialist’ website, ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ the movie, to 'Fruits' the Japanese magazine, fashion is increasingly a visual part of our global reality. What does this mean? Looking at different forms of public and social media, this panel discussion featuring Tim Gunn and “The Sartorialist” Scott Schuman will discuss the cultural significance of contemporary constructions of fashion."

Moderated by Hazel Clark, Dean of the School of Art and Design History and Theory; with an introduction by Heike Jenss, Director of the MA Fashion Studies program.

Japanese Fashion - Past, Present, Future?

by Sarah Scaturro

Issey Miyake's new 132 5 collection as displayed in the Barbican Art Gallery's exhibition "Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion." Photo by Barbican Art Gallery.

We all know that fashion is an expression of the zeitgeist – a style or trend can explode out of seemingly nowhere, with disparate tribes and geographies adopting it simultaneously. Fashion exhibitions are no different. The past few years have seen many exhibitions mounted on similar topics (colors, sustainability, glamour, etc). Currently there are two very different exhibitions on display about Japanese fashion. The first is “Japan Fashion Now” at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) in New York City, and the second is “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion” at the Barbican Art Gallery in London.

There are some obvious similarities between these exhibitions – both are curated by top curators in the field (Valerie Steele at MFIT and the Kyoto Costume Institute’s Akiko Fukai at the Barbican). Both focus on Japanese fashion designers and celebrate their contributions to the Western fashion system. Both show looks dating back to 30 years ago and pay attention to contemporary Japanese sub-cultures. But that’s it. Their interpretations, exhibition design and overall approaches are radically different. I first visited the MFIT exhibition “Japan Fashion Now” when it opened - having seen almost all MFIT exhibitions over the past 6 years, I figured I knew what to expect. I was happily surprised to see that the first gallery of the show had been enlarged and was dedicated exclusively to early works by the groundbreaking designers who were the first to put Japanese fashion on the map: Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Hanae Mori, and Yohji Yamamoto were among this group. This immediately made a lot of sense, since the thesis of the show was about what is happening now in Japan, rather than in the 1980/90s. I asked a close friend of mine what she thought about this first room after visiting it on her own. “They look like dead, headless corpses in a cemetery” she replied, citing the dark room, low ceilings and headless white mannequins wearing somber colored garments as the main issue. Now, she isn’t familiar with the challenges of the introductory gallery space and fashion exhibition display in general (low ceilings, low light levels, stiff mannequins, etc.), but she did have a point, especially when contrasted to the main exhibition space with its J-Pop music, vibrant colors, and soaring walls vinyled in a Tokyo-like cityscape. She also could have been reacting to the severity and deconstructed qualities of the garments on display in the first gallery – I could only imagine how shocking they must have seemed at the time when they were first shown decades ago. I personally thought the first gallery was a meditative moment, and was a nice contrast to the main exhibition space.

The first gallery in the "Japan Fashion Now" exhibition at MFIT. Photo by MFIT.

Entering into the main exhibition gallery, I was dynamically swept into a miniature city landscape. MFIT really used the gallery’s too-high ceiling to their advantage, creating a sort of mini-Harujuku by stitching together photos of Tokyo buildings and enlarging them to cover all the gallery walls. This mise-en-scène held more recent looks from designers also shown in the first gallery, but focused mainly on the contemporary generation of Japanese fashion designers. The platform featuring menswear designers was especially insightful, as it succinctly displayed a lot of what Japanese fashion is known for: technology, heritage, authenticity, gender-bending, punk, deconstruction, playfulness, elegance, etc. I really wanted to like the section on subcultures and street fashion, but it just didn’t resonate with me. The scary teenage girl mannequins were one problem, but the main reason was that part of the success of the subculture movement is that it is about a fantastical (and powerful) sense of individualism and performance. Without seeing the actual girl wearing the clothes, with her movements, voice, hair, shoes, etc, I just didn’t buy it – they looked more like costumes for Halloween than street-fashion. Although, maybe that was the point. It was nice to see MFIT touch upon the tribal, or “zoku,” subcultures (I remember being infatuated with the style of the Bosozoku [motorcycle gangs] when I lived in Japan a decade ago) as well as the never-ending search for “authenticity,” particularly concerning Japanese denim.

View of the first floor gallery from the second floor of the "Future Beauty" exhibition. Photo by Sarah Scaturro

The joyful cacophony of color, styles and sound at the MFIT exhibition contrasts sharply with the white, almost Zen-like design of the Barbican show. “Future Beauty” is broken up into two floors, with the second floor essentially a square with an open center, looking down onto the first floor gallery. Just like MFIT exploited the high ceilings of their main gallery, the Barbican used the high ceilings of the first floor to hang sheer white silk-like panels of fabric. As a design element, these fabric panels served several purposes - they made a pathway through the exhibition, they delineated themes, and they created small, intimate moments in which to view the garments, sometimes only a single look. The show itself was broken into several themes, with the first floor exploring “In Praise of Shadows,” “Flatness,” “Tradition and Innovation,” and “Cool Japan.” My favorite section on the first floor was “Flatness,” which displayed Miyake’s A Piece of Cloth and Pleats concepts in a dynamic and inventive way, and also included a separate display of Kawakubo’s garments shown on mannequins coupled with Naoya Hatakeyama’s photos of the same garments flattened out. As Fukai in the Gallery Guide points out, “the interstices between fabric and figure…represent an expression of ‘ma’ – the Japanese concept which views the void between objects as a rich, energized space.” The “Cool Japan” section was the only nod to street fashion and sub-cultural styles in the exhibition. Interestingly, whereas MFIT showed actual street fashion garments, the Barbican displayed only high fashion garments inspired by street fashion, anime and “zoku” style (designers included Ohya, Zucca, Jun Takahashi and Tao Kurihara). Fukai mentions that these designers were “eschew[ing] the visual overload common to Tokyo street fashion in favor of a simpler, more iconic use of manga characters.” I think this comment can be extended to describe the two exhibition design approaches in general – one is about visual overload, while the other is about restraint.

The second floor featured small vignettes of the work by the most well-known (and presumably most important) Japanese designers, including Miyake, Yamamoto, Takahashi, Kurihara, Watanabe, and Kawakubo. It also included a section on Mintdesigns, a duo who use print and graphics in an almost “fetishistic” manner, as well as another section on “The Next Generation,” which included work by Chitose Abe, Tamae Hirokawa and Akira Naka. Honestly, after seeing all other sections before, I was underwhelmed by the choices included in “The Next Generation” – they seemed a lot like rehashings of ideas already expressed by earlier generations of Japanese designers. The section on Kawakubo was especially touching, as it showed several looks from her revered 1997 Spring/Summer collection Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body, as well as a video showing the actual runway show. I had never actually seen the runway show, so I had no idea that the audience was rapturously clapping as each model appeared and walked down the runway.

The titles to the two exhibitions give the most overt clue to their fundamental difference – the MFIT show focuses on celebrating the here and now of Japanese style, whereas the Barbican show leaves a distinct feeling that the glory years of Japanese fashion are mostly in the past (even though its title ironically includes the phrase "Future Beauty.") I left the MFIT show with a sense that Japanese fashion was fun, quirky, youth-oriented and democratic, whereas the Barbican show seemed to elevate all of Japanese fashion into the cerebral realm of art (I think the fact that the MFIT exhibit was free whereas the Barbican show cost around $18 also contributed to that mindset.)

A large part of the disconnect between the two exhibitions has to do with the fact that the Barbican exhibit was curated by a Japanese fashion insider, whereas the MFIT show was organized by an outsider looking in at contemporary Japanese culture. This inside/outside dichotomy can’t be overstressed, as it plays into every aspect of interaction Japan has with outside cultures – even fashion. (As someone who has lived in Japan, I am very aware of having always been considered a “gaijin,” which means “alien.”) Fukai even presented a run of fashion show invitations from Miyake that she had actually received, further emphasizing her own inclusion, and by extension authority, in the realm of Japanese fashion. Precise and tightly-edited, “Future Beauty” is the exact vision and message of Japanese fashion that Fukai wants the rest of the world to know – no more and no less. Steele, perhaps cognizant of her American audience (as well as the FIT student body), has presented her own interpretation of Japanese fashion that is in many ways more in-line with American values and tastes through its emphasis on youth, democracy and individuality. Ideally, a visit to the MFIT exhibition would be coupled with a visit to the Barbican exhibition. The two exhibitions, with their disparate foci and approaches actually complement each other, bringing a fuller understanding of just how revolutionary and influential Japanese fashion was, and still is, both inside and outside of Japan.

Japan Fashion Now is on display until April 2, 2011.

Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion is on display until February 6, 2011.

Sarah Scaturro

A Textile Arts Community Grows in Brooklyn

Summer Camp at the Textile Arts Center

I first heard about the Textile Arts Center (TAC) from my friend Isa Rodrigues, a textile conservator and fiber enthusiast who works there as the studio manager. She kept telling me I needed to meet the "TAC girls" because not only were they young and cool, they were doing something that nobody else in the city was doing - singlehandedly crafting together a vibrant community of like-minded people interested in textiles and fiber arts. I stopped by one of their free open-house weaving sessions that they have every last Friday of the month, and I was thrilled with the beauty of the space, the incredible looms, the colorful spools of yarn and the welcoming feeling that greeted me. Once I met Visnja Popovic and Owyn Ruck, the co-founders of TAC, I was instantly swept up by their enthusiasm and commitment towards forging a place where textile experts, novices, enthusiasts, and artists can learn and practice this most ancient of arts. Owyn took a moment out of her busy schedule to talk to Fashion Projects about their work and vision for the Textile Arts Center.

Fashion Projects: Recently TAC has gotten a lot of people in the local fashion and textile
 fields buzzing, even though it seems like you popped out of nowhere.
 Can you give us a little information on the backstory of the center 
and tell us about your gorgeous new space in Brooklyn?

Textile Arts Center: Buzzing?! Are they? That’s good to hear…I feel like we have our noses to the ground, pounding work out without taking a second to stop and see how much we’ve changed in the past year.

Textile Arts Center started just over a year ago in a small weaving studio in Park Slope. Visnja and I really wanted to expand to offer other programs, especially for adults, and create the “center” we envisioned. I think the main thrill was in bringing together everyone with a love for fibers, or even slightest interest, and creating the environment that was comfortable, fun and really conducive to making great work. The feeling of art school, without going back to art school.

We went through a long process of finding the right space, kind of with haste at one point… But we found this one after a few mishaps! And that’s what’s important. It felt like home immediately. Our move to Carroll St was in April and since then we’ve just sort of grown. I think a big part of that growth was feeling secure in what we were presenting to the public. The space speaks a lot for itself and we’ve been working hard to reach the right audiences with the confidence that we are doing something people could really love.

What is the overarching goal of TAC? How do you see the center fitting 
into the existing fashion and textile community in Brooklyn and New
 York City?

The whole DIY and fashion scene here is…intense. Growing up here (Brooklyn) I didn’t really ever imagine this happening, it hardly seems like the same place. But Brooklyn, and NYC in general, is amazing that way. There is always something new and exciting. People are constantly pushing boundaries here, and it’s really exciting to be a part of.

Fiber and textile arts have a stodgy stigma and one of our goals is to change that. Textiles are not only beautiful and fun to create, but also really important in our human history. Textiles touch practically everything in our lives and every industry. It’s frustrating, for example, that even those most knowledgeable in current fashion could not know the technical difference between a knit and a woven fabric! It’s important to understand how things are made, where they are coming from. We want to acknowledge that people can do it themselves, too. It’s not for a set of elite talent. Textiles are inherently social and community oriented and that should always be the attitude about textile appreciation in any form.


What are some of the classes you offer, and who is your intended 
audience? What are some of the classes, services and events that you 
hope to offer in the future?

We now offer quite a bit. In addition to the continuous Intro Weaving and Intro Screen Printing courses, the Fall courses include paper and book arts, sewing, knitting, dyeing, embroidery, quilting… We’ve really enjoyed shifting our focus to an adult audience, while finessing and perfecting our kids programs (Summer Camp and Afterschool). We want to reach anyone with interest in learning new skills, sharing their work, and being part of a larger community.

In the future, we want to keep the momentum going by consistently offering new class topics and more advanced courses. However, once that is going, our focus can come back a bit to the Gallery and fiber artists. We really have some great shows planned, as well as a textile artists residency program in the works. In addition, we’ll hopefully be adding a product line and a free program for underserved teens in portfolio development for art and vocational schools. I could go through the ideas constantly spewed out daily, but we’d be here awhile…

Brooklyn Mini-Skills: Natural Dyeing from tom hayes on Vimeo.

You have a very small team of people working at the Center, so it
 seems to really be a labor of love. How do you find that it’s working 
out? Are you looking for interns and volunteers? (something that I’m
 sure many Fashion Projects readers would like to know)

Boy is it a labor of love… Endless hours, but also endless fun. We’ve really created our ideal working life. There is never a shortage of people who want to be involved, and we love meeting new people. Some of our greatest advice and help has been 100% free. We really love this part of the community – textile lovers will do whatever they can for it and to be involved.

It’s hard when you are starting out to want to give up some dough to have hired help. But when we embarked upon the new space, growing rapidly, we quickly saw we needed real, solid help. We were drowning a bit! Both Isa (studio manager) and Kim (marketing assistant) started as free interns, devoting so much time, and are both now on staff. You don’t necessarily need a lot of people to run something like this, but you do need devotion and love for it. We’ve been lucky to have so many people around with this attitude.

We are always looking for interns and volunteers! Particularly coming up in the fall. We are aiming to be open 7 days a week, with late hours for artists, and need studio monitors we can trust in exchange for use of the studio. 

You’re participating in Fashion’s Night Out on September 10th, with an
 emphasis on Slow Fashion. In a way, this seems to be subverting FNO’s
 original purpose of spurring consumption by restoring consumer
 confidence and boosting the economy. (“Shop. For Something Good.” is 
their tagline.) What are you trying to gain and what message are you
 intending to spread by participating in this event?

I really thought hard about this when planning the event. The event started out as a small thing, since our Opening Party is the week after. But the feedback we were receiving from people was really positive so it kind of turned into something else entirely.

This positive feedback seemed to tell us there was a real place for this type of appreciation in fashion, that there are a lot of people that want to participate in FNO but not necessarily in the sense of pure consumerism.

I think FNO is great in many ways. The industry should not die out, designers need to be supported, and the economy does need a boost. There is no doubt about that. However, we didn’t feel right promoting blind consumerism. We are doing an event about the direction we think fashion should be taking, and IS taking, as we speak. Eco-fashion is the new thing…”green is the new black”, right?

As with all of our programs, the main objective is to educate. We wanted to support local Brooklyn/NYC designers that are making things by hand, with fabrics made in sustainable ways, with versatile, classic design sense. At the same time we wanted to make sure that people were walking away from the event with the understanding that “Sustainable Fashion” is not only about buying from designers who use organic fabrics. Yes, that is important, but the responsibility is on the consumer as well as the designer. “Slow Fashion” is buying what you need, what you love, buying locally, reusing and repurposing materials, learning about and knowing how to do-it-yourself…It’s imperative to understand the industry you are buying from and having the knowledge to make the right decisions of what and who you want to support with your well-earned cash.


As part of your commitment to Slow Fashion, you are also participating 
in the 6 Things challenge that was recently profiled in the NYT. Your 
blog about the challenge is
 fascinating as it reveals a lot of the anxiety, frustration, but
 ultimately liberation that you all are going through. Do you think 
that once you have finished the challenge your approach to your
 wardrobe will be radically altered?

I think so…I hope so! It’s hard to tell as in week one it still feels fine and relatively normal. Week 3 or 4 might be a different story.

I came across the 6 Items or Less project on and thought what Heidi and Stella had started was great, I was happy to see the coverage they’ve been receiving. It’s yet another good point to fashion lovers: to pay attention to what we buy and wear, and why we do. Fashion is an important part of self-expression, and has a psychological effect on most, but we need to be more aware of it. Why do we feel bad about ourselves if you don’t have the perfect outfit? Why should getting dressed in the morning be hard? Why do we feel we have “nothing to wear” with a closet of 100+ items. It’s just a great way to challenge yourself and dig a little deeper into your own psyche.

There have been a lot of complaints so far! But I think that doing it as a staff, a group, we are able to support each other and stay on track. I must admit, I felt like I was pulling teeth a bit, but I’m glad everyone agreed to do it. I love waking up and not thinking about it. I think we’ll all learn to be a bit more creative with what we already own, and appreciate the quality of what we buy.


Where do you envision TAC to be in 5 years? 10 years?

Hopefully it will still exist! It’s a little hard to imagine, but I can only hope that our classes and programs are always full, we have the grant funding to run the free programs we would like, we have a product line of beautiful woven and printed goods, and we never have to advertise ever again!

No, but really, we have a lot of ideas. We have huge goals, and we have the energy while we are young to take ideas and (attempt to) turn them into reality.

The ultimate goal is to be an accredited institution where students come to receive credit (so many fashion and textile programs in NYC don’t even have a weaving course!), where we can offer multiple free programs so everyone can join the community, and be a staple in the art world representing textile and fiber artists. ----------------- Textile Arts Center 505 Carroll Street Brooklyn, NY 11215 Phone: 718.369.0222

Hours: Mon - Sat : 10am - 6pm Sunday: Closed

Sarah Scaturro

Hacking Sustainable Fashion

Photos by Megan MacMurray

Fashion Projects readers might be familiar with Giana Gonzalez, an interaction designer and artist who seeks to hack into the fashion system. I had interviewed her back in 2006 about her Hacking Couture workshops. Results from her workshops given in New York, Chicago, California and Istanbul are on view now at Eyebeam as part of the exhibition Re:Group: Beyond Models of Consensus.

Giana and I will be giving a FREE workshop this coming Wednesday, July 14th, at Eyebeam using the hacking methodology Giana has created. Only this time, instead of trying to hack the code of fashion brands, we are setting our sights a bit higher - we aim to hack into the sustainable fashion movement. In fact, we know that ultimately, a hack into sustainable fashion is really about hacking the entire fashion system...something we are very excited to try. Please do attend if you can, as we cannot do this alone.

Of course, we will be posting the code we develop on the Fashion Code Wiki.

More images from the Re:Group: Beyond Models of Consensus exhibition after the jump.

Sarah Scaturro

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!