Counter-Couture in ~ the Museum of Arts and also Design provides a new way to think about the tradition of the counterculture movement.

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bySarah Archer April 21, 2017April 20, 2017
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“Hippie aristocracy on the Rocks” (1969) (photo by karl Ferris, special crocheted draft by 100% Birgitta)


It’s not regularly that a fashion exhibition in brand-new York City presents vintage garments versus a backdrop of faux-wood laminate paneling, or accessorizes pick pieces v clusters of hanging tree in macramé holders. However Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, currently on watch at the Museum of Arts and Design, takes aim at the contested territory that separates DIY practice from high-end craftsmanship. The stretch that time in between the so late 1960s and early 1970s is a rich minute in i m sorry to examine this theme. Despite steeped in protest, the fashions and also fads of this era were likewise frilly and decadent, luxuriant in materials and elaborate in building — a sartorial mode that deftly underscores the exhibition’s “queerness,” both in the broad, countercultural sense, and also in the much more specific sense of sex-related identity.


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Mary Ann Schildknecht, “Embroidered Skirt and Top Ensemble” *c. 1972), cotton and also velvet (courtesy of mar Ann Schildknecht; picture by Rex Rystedt; courtesy of the Bellevue art Museum)


Some of the functions on view might have been runway looks, had actually the powers-that-be in ~ the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture chose on a whim the studded denim was unexpectedly an agree medium. The large message of the exhibition appears to be that do-it-yourself doesn’t have to mean do something sloppy or shoddy. Contradictory to the punk aesthetic, i m sorry valorizes a specific duct-taped, improvised nonchalance, plenty of of the garments and accessories displayed in Counter-Couture are exquisite, even obsessive in their design and fabrication, favor the embroidered ensemble that mary Ann Schildknecht created while offer time in one Italian prison, where skilled nuns taught her to stitch. This pieces might be labors that love, however they nothing say “amateur hour.”

Counter-Couture premiered in ~ the Bellevue arts Museum in Washington in the fall of 2015. It was arranged by guest curator Michael Cepress, a Seattle-based fashion designer who specializes in menswear. Quoted in the exhibit’s press release, Cepress points to his discovery at age 15 of Alexandra Jacopetti Hart’s 1974 publication Native Funk & Flash, which recorded his imagination and inspired him to launch what would end up being a 15-year process of researching counterculture fashion. Due to the fact that the late 1990s, Cepress has personally got to out to scores the makers across the unified States and also painstakingly assembled the garments and also collateral material on check out in Counter-Couture.


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Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in one American Counterculture, installation watch (photo through Jenna Bascom; courtesy the the Museum that Arts and also Design)


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The exhibition, displayed on two floors that the museum, is divided into 5 sections: “Funk & Flash,” “The 1974 Levi’s Denim arts Contest,” “Couture,” “Performance,” and also “Psychedelic Style.” Each section exudes what Cepress characterizes together a “vital stream of passion, ideas, and artist activists who determined fashion to aid create a far better world for us all” — a emotion that rings together true in 2017 together it walk in 1967. The intuitive language the protest appears here in overt forms, prefer Michael Fajans’s frenetically colorful and also aggressively stitched “Hand Embroidered and Applique military Coat” from 1967, i beg your pardon I review as symbolic the the many battlefield injuries developing in Vietnam. Other pieces room subtler, favor the shining red dashiki dress from 1970, a prize of black color pride, which is displayed next to among the exhibition’s priceless finds: a Simplicity pattern for dashiki shirts native 1972, v an illustration that reflects a young black pair in the foreground and a white couple in the background.


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Michael Fajans, “Hand Embroidered and also Applique army Coat” (1967), cotton, silk, velvet, and wool (courtesy the Nancy L. Pollock; picture by Jenna Bascom; Courtesy the the Museum the Arts and also Design)


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Dashiki Maxi dress (1970), artist unknown, cotton (photo by Jenna Bascom; courtesy the the Museum of Arts and also Design)


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Simplicity pattern for Dashiki shirts and dresses (1972) (photo by the author for invernessgangshow.net)


The counterculture-ness on display screen here is ultimately about fighting conformity, i m sorry comes throughout most powerfully in regards to gender and also sexuality. The artists and designers that made these clothing were, because that the most part, elevated in the 1950s, on a stable diet the postwar suburban etiquette and ideals. In among the exhibition’s display screens of printed ephemera, a 1967 photograph of Hibiscus (born George Edgerly Harris II), founder that The Cockettes, shows a reasonably clean-cut young male with blond hair hair attract a turtleneck sweater, gently placing a flower in the barrel that a army police officer’s gun. Together associate curator Barbara Paris Gifford notes, Hibiscus was nearly “preppy” in his youth. That bittersweet to note that just a few years later, in complete hair and makeup, he would radiate androgynous, psychedelic splendor — i m sorry is captured in the magnetic films that space projected in a constant loop on the opposite gallery wall — and also a couple of years after that, in might 1982, he would certainly die the AIDS. Hibiscus has long held cult status among fashion cognoscenti, and also a 2003 file in T newspaper by Horacio Silva counts Viktor & Rolf and also John Galliano amongst the contemporary designers who revere his creativity and also talent. (The post was published before the 2011 anti-semitic tirade that cost Galliano his write-up at Christian Dior.) and also this is much from the just connection between the hippie commune and also the runway: another example is Yvonne Porcella’s patchwork gowns native 1972, which show up to presage the peasant silhouettes in Yves St. Laurent’s much-beloved 1976 “Russian” collection.


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George Edgerly Harris II (AKA Hibiscus) placing a flower in the total of a soldier, October 1967 (photography through Bernie Boston, via Wikipedia)


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Cockette Pristine condition (left) and also Cockette Scrumbly Koldewyn (right), opening act for brand-new York Dolls, Matrix, brand-new York, respectable 1973 (courtesy of Kourosh Larizadeh and Luis Pardo)


Most the the functions in Counter-Couture space visually of a piece. Hair collars, human body jewelry, a faintly Biblical ensemble worn by dad Yod from the resource Family, and also the album cover from the original cast recording that Hair all collection the step in a cohesive way, along with some clever atmospheric touches from MAD’s team, choose walls of hanging beads and also a lush classic-rock soundtrack. Gifford also included works native MAD’s permanent collection that predate those in the show, which adds visual and temporal layers to the installation. One details work that seems ahead of its time is Mildred Fischer’s linen wall surface piece “Daydream,” from 1965.


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Detail of father Yod Ensemble (c. 1970), cotton, leather, steel (courtesy of Isis Aquarian; picture by Rex Rystedt; courtesy of the Bellevue arts Museum)


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Mildred Fischer, “Daydream” (1965), linen (photo by Jenna Bascom; courtesy of the Museum the Arts and also Design)


For me, though, the highlight of the exhibition is the job-related of san Francisco designer Kaisik Wong (1950–90). Wong’s aesthetic, i beg your pardon could ideal be described as “outer space/regal,” stands except the hippie coats and also peasant dresses on view, and also it conveniently passes the check of time as a thoroughly original body of work. Try to imagine that someone crossed extremely structured instances of Elizabethan court dress v costumes indigenous the movie Xanadu, and also you’re virtually there. Indeed, Wong’s inventions read as cinematic costumes more than fashion: they’d look appropriate at house in Logan’s Run, Labyrinth, or, if you squint a bit, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Prefer Hibiscus, Wong passed away of AIDS at a tragically young age, and although his clients contained the likes the Tina Turner, Elton John, and also Salvador Dalí (who commissioned his 1974 “Ray” series), his work-related didn’t enter the tendency fashion world during his lifetime. This can well be for useful reasons: His 1974 “Yellow and Green ray Dress and Headdress” native the “Seven Ray” series, a Paul Poiret–like garment that resembles a glittering peapod, seems more likely to influence moviemakers and also stylists 보다 merchandisers in search of the next workaday, wearable look. (Although among Wong’s jackets to be notoriously plagiarized by Nicolas Ghesquière because that Balenciaga in 2010.)


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Kaisik Wong, “Yellow and also Green beam Dress and also Headdress,” native the 7 Ray series (1974), yellow, gold, and also green lamé (courtesy that the DeYoung Museum)


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Kaisik Wong (1974) (photo through Jerry Wainwright)


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Grouping of ensembles by Kaisik Wong (photo by Jenna Bascom; courtesy that the Museum the Arts and Design)


From Wong’s work, to the wild, androgynous jewel of partners in love and life Alex and also Lee, come Billy Shire’s studded “Welfare” coat (winner of the Levi’s Denim arts Contest) — it every reads a bit like the left-behind artifacts of a final Summer that Love, just prior to AIDS destroyed a generation of gay men. This isn’t clearly referenced in the exhibition, together its chronology stop just short of the end of the disco era. Yet Counter-Couture supplies a new means to think about the lasting tradition of the counterculture movement. To it is in sure, there were plenty of middle-class American teens for whom lengthy hair, casual sex, drugs, concerts, and also macramé were taken in the paper definition of pleasure, suburban rebellion, and cool-kid trends. But the ’60s and ’70s also set the stage for a genuinely radical change in the way we read and also understand the visual cues the gender and also sexuality, plenty of of i m sorry are, in part, fashion choices. Only an exhibition that considers vernacular material could do this: It wouldn’t make feeling at a city Museum of art Costume academy show about the ’60s and ’70s the featured Pucci shifts, space-age Courreges hats, or Halston ultrasuede pave dresses. Fashion’s queering during the counterculture is one overlooked preamble come so much of what us think and also talk about with for to gender and culture today. Males with lengthy hair may have been sporting a visual rejection that “square” society, however they were likewise (perhaps unwittingly) paving the road for queer identities to it is in seen, recognized, and also even celebrated in fashion and culture at large.

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Alex and also Lee (1974) (photo through Jerry Wainwright for indigenous Funk and also Flash)


Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture continues at the Museum the Arts and also Design (2 Columbus Circle, Midtown) with August 20.