Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey at SCADFASH

Sometimes a reminder cames to us to not put things off. With the majority of the world in self survival mode, there won’t be any museum going for a while. That makes my recent trip to Atlanta, taken just as the coronavirus was reaching the US, even more special. It may be the last museum jaunt for a long while.

If you were around in the 1980s, you probably remember Patrick Kelly, a young Black designer from Mississippi who took Paris by storm in 1985. His clothes were body-hugging, often in black accented with bright colors. He was known for his joyous approach to life and his loyalty to his friends. Unfortunately, Kelly died of AIDS in 1990.

Since his death, not much has been written about Kelly, though a book is now in the works. He did leave a large archive which is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. Artist Derrick Adams took a deep dive into the archive, which inspired a body of work celebrating Kelly’s legacy.

The exhibition at SCADFASH incorporates these works from Adams, surrounded by clothing designed by Kelly, and memorabilia from his life. Many of these items were loaned to the museum by friends in Atlanta, where Kelly lived during the 1970s.

In my top photo you can see one of Adams’s works. It incorporates pattern pieces from designs Kelly licensed to Vogue Patterns, along with the brights + black scheme that so typifies many of Kelly’s dresses.

This Patrick Kelly dress seems to be to be a collage in dress form.

And here is a work by Adams using the same theme.

This Kelly dress was one that was made into a commercial pattern. The large dots of color are actually buttons.

And here is the pattern. Finding buttons that large must have been a real task for anyone not living in a place like New York with all its fashion resources. The large buttons in the photograph were specially-made buttons for Kelly’s line. He would keep a supply of them in his pocket to hand out to visitors to his boutique and workshop.

This work by Adams incorporates the button theme.

Here’s one of Kelly’s trademark caps. They often just spelled out Paris in sequins.  And there’s another of his pattern designs in the background.

One thing I neglected to photograph was a couple of little plastic baby dolls. About two inches long, each was made of molded brown plastic, representing Black babies. I remember these from my 1960s childhood, and was quite surprised that he had them in the 1980s. They were another of the little gifts Kelly passed out to friends and visitors. The Black babies were just one of the ways that Kelly stressed his Blackness, as he also appropriated Black images that were meant to be racist and demeaning. He even used a Golliwog as a motif in some of his collections.

There have been two major retrospectives of Kelly’s work, one at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004, and one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014 after they received eighty garments from his estate. There have been two podcasts about Kelly in recent months, both featuring interviews with Dr. Eric Darnell Pritchard, who has been researching Kelly’s story for an upcoming book. Listen to them at Dressed and at the FIT Podcast.

Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey will be on exhibit at SCADFASH in Atlanta until July 19, 2020, Hopefully the museum will reopen with plenty of time for people to see this thought provoking exhibition.

And to show how Patrick Kelly influenced fashion, here’s a dress from Better Dresses Vintage. No, it’s not a Patrick Kelly, but you sure can see the influence.

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Tom Brigance Waterclothes 1970s Bathing Set

Having lived through the 1970s doesn’t make collecting the clothing from that decade easier. If anything, the waters are muddied by memories, some of which are not representative of the era. I once went to an exhibition that showed handbags from different eras, along with what women might have carried in each. I was loving the show until I got to the 1970s bags, and for some reason, the contents the curator had chosen seemed all wrong to me. After all, I was there, and I know what I carried in my bag.

But in some ways the more recent decades are easier to collect. For one thing, there’s more choice. And often the choices include high quality items at a reasonable price which in earlier decades would be priced out of sight. This set from sportswear designer Tom Brigance is a great example.

Brigance’s name isn’t as well known as some of his peers, like  Claire McCardell, Tina Leser, and Rose Marie Reid. But when it comes to beachwear, Mr. Brigance was hard to beat. He started out designing in Europe in the 1930s, but went to New York in 1939 where he designed at Lord & Taylor. Like so many others, his career was interrupted by World War II, but when the war ended, he returned to Lord & Taylor. In 1949 he opened his own design business, designing sportswear and swimsuits for various companies.

I have a Tom Brigance halter dress from the 1950s, but I’d had a Brigance bathing suit on my wishlist for some time. I was thinking that I wanted one from the 1950s, but when this set showed up on eBay, I changed my mind. I see this as a great representation of the type of things Brigance designed. He often used interesting necklines, and bare but covered lines.  The seller described this as being from the 1960s, and I didn’t disagree until I looked at the close-up photos. After all, it does that the mid 1960s Cole of California Scandal Suit vibe.

The soft interior of the bra section tells me this is not likely to be a 1960s suit. Until the early 1970s, most makers were designing bathing suits with rigid bras, and many even had boning. Things began to soften at the end of the 1960s with bras made of a bonded fabric that was soft but that held its shape. Many of these have deteriorated into dust. This suit simply has a shelf bra made of thick nylon.

The guessing game ended when I spotted this label.  The ILGWU switched to this label in 1974, using the colors of the American flag. Was this part of their campaign to get Americans to “Always look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!”

Someone paid a lot for this set, though I don’t know exactly how much because the prices have been removed. And as you can see, it was never worn as the paper tags are still attached. I have detached the tags and have stored them, as the garments do not need any more exposure to the acidic paper.

As a buyer, I don’t expect sellers to always know everything about what they are selling. But the best sellers put in enough photos so people like me can make a determination on our own. That means lots of label shots. In  this case, I knew exactly what I was buying because of the union label.

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Vintage Miscellany – March 18, 2020

Let’s all take a break from the virus news, why don’t we? You can take a long hike, or sit there and read some news from the fashion, art,  and textile history world.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler – Winter 2020

I’m here to break to monotony of home exile with a bit of virtual shopping for the cabin fevered.  I went on my last shopping expedition for a while last week, and I’m hoping the Liberty Antiques Festival will go on as usual at the end of April. Otherwise, I might have a meltdown. Joking aside, be smart people.

All these photos were taken over a period of several months, in Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, and North Georgia.

I love souvenir items from my region. I’m only about thirty miles from the Eastern Band of Cherokee “reservation”, which is not in Tennessee at all, and is not a true reservation.  Still, this pillow accurately shows what tourists were apt to see in the 1940s or 50s when visiting Cherokee, NC.

If this had pictured a woman golfer, I would have bought it.

Scariest Santa ever.  I love old masks, and have collected a few Halloween ones. They are always creepy.

If I return to this antique mall and this is still there, I’ll probably buy it. As it was, the piece was over-priced and over-ruffled. Still, I love that sailor so much.

I love how sometimes you can tell where an antique store is located just by thinking about the products for sale. In North Georgia I saw a lot of chenille bedspreads. That’s where they were made.

Some time ago I wrote about the Iowa button industry. I had no idea they were also made in Chattanooga, from mussel shells from the Tennessee River.

I liked this Squaw Valley souvenir ski thermometer.

As the Boomers start dying off, will anyone care about Howdy Doody? (I met Buffalo Bob at an Asheville Tourists baseball game some years ago. Such a nice man!)

Sex sells anything, even Mosco Corn Remover.

And here’s more chenille, this time in East Tennessee. This one is a more modern synthetic, but what about that peacock!?

I’ve seen a lot of Enid Collins bags recently, including quite a few I’d never seen before. I loved this poodle. I was once lucky enough to talk with Collin’s son, and asked him if they ever produced a Scottie dog bag. He told me he did not know, and there were many that had limited production, so it was possible one might show up one day. I can hope.

This beach jacket is for a small child. I want a big one, please.

There are some sellers on Instagram who could sell this holey sweater for $$$.

I found the semi-local label interesting.

How pretty is that lavender dress? It came with the hat and the dressform and was priced accordingly.

Simply gorgeous!

I’ve always tended to think of Victorian and Edwardian collars as white, so seeing these striped ones was an education.

Slickers, with the original box!

This is the only way to effectively sell hair nets.

At first I was distracted by the stand-up ad for the World’s Lightest Outboard, and then I noticed the Christian Dior gloves display piece. What a treasure!

And may your day be filled with treasures as well!

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Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH – Part 2

When I went to Atlanta to see Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH, I made the trip primarily to see the Adrian suits. I did not expect to be so enchanted with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, so I was so happy to see what I’d been missing.

As I pointed out before, don’t expect a history lesson from SCAD FASH. The docents do a good job of showing additional photos and answering questions, but the truth is, you need to do your own research before visiting.  I knew Alaïa as a designer of formfitting dresses and gowns for the rich and famous, but I’d never really thought of him as a tailor. Was I wrong!

I did know of Alaïa as a collector, having had the experience of bidding against him at auction. I didn’t know it at the time, but in an auction of clothing and textiles held just before his death in 2017, Alaïa outbid me on several items of sportswear. It was not until the auction company sent out a notice explaining that because Alaïa had died, the items he had bid on were to be for sale to the first claimant. Seems like there were some Claire McCardell items in the list.

He was quite the collector. I read somewhere that the Association Azzedine Alaïa now manages over 20,000 objects that he had collected.

But today I’ll be talking about his work. This dress and jacket are from 2007. I have always been a fan of pleats, and so this one was a favorite. The pleats are not just in the skirt, but also on the back of the jacket.

It’s hard to tell on such a thick, black fabric, but it looks to be that the pleats are one long piece of fabric, pleated and then attached like godets. Amazing construction!

And yes, all these suits are black. I have them looking like charcoal gray, but that’s so you can appreciate the details.

This superb suit is from 2010, but the dates of these suits really are not the point. Alaïa did not conform to a fashion calendar, and he was more interested in his own sense of style than he was of fashion. Sounds just like Adrian.

This was another favorite, and the reality of this suit is much better than my sorry photo of it. Taking his cues from the traditional man’s cut away coat (and how about that velvet collar?), Alaïa mixes it up by combining it with that hyper-feminine lace skirt. This suit was made in 1989. Do you see what I mean by his own vision of style?

I have no idea how the lace was made, but it could not have been easy.

Alaïa, like Adrian, was fond of fringe. This jacket from 1986 is paired with his leggings. I love my American Giant leggings, but I could sure use a pair of these.

There are no boring backs on an Alaïa jacket.

Same collar, same 1986 collection. This also came in a rich dark blue, but it was not on display here.

That motif is embroidered. There in the background are the Adrian suits.

Okay, I’ll admit the jury is still out on this 2007 dress and capelet. I love the skirt so much, and wanted to just remove the capelet to see if the dress met with my satisfaction.  You can see the back of this one in the previous photo.

I’ll finish up the suits with this one from 2012 because it is pretty much perfect.

There was also a stunning selection of Alaïa’s gowns and dresses in the exhibition. As pretty as they are, I just did not find them to be as interesting as the suits. He used a lot of knits, as in both of the dresses above.

Here’s Oscar night along with a refugee from the Grammys. The Grammy worthy leather gown was mind blowing in its construction.

If you have ever sewn leather, you know there are no second chances, that every stitch leaves a hole in the leather. Remarkable!

The long industrial strength zipper circles the body three times. 1981.

Yes, you can get this close, but do not touch.

This gown is actually a beautiful blue that I simply could not capture with my camera. It’s also knit.  Alaïa also was a great admirer and collector of Charles James garments, and the influence of James’s “La Sirène” in this gown is unmistakable.

The exhibition also shows how Alaïa referenced the 1930s. If you didn’t know better, you could mistake this confection for a 1930s gown…

right down to the snap closures. Take a moment to notice how this (and all the others) dress was mounted. A clear plastic form was molded to custom fit each dress.

There were also some celebrity worn dresses. Here one of the docents is showing me photos of Tina Turner wearing her Alaïa performance dresses.

Again, this exhibition is well worth a trip to Atlanta, and to make it even better, there was another smaller show featuring designer Patrick Kelly. And thanks so much to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for sharing the day and her photographs.

 

 

 

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Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH

Having SCAD FASH in Atlanta makes me happy. I mean, really, really, happy. Who wouldn’t be happy standing in front of a line of suits by Gilbert Adrian? And this new exhibition, Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut, gave me a chance to actually wear the jacket from my Adrian suit and to spend time with my friend Liza.

Because I’m such a chronologically minded person, I’ll show off the Adrian garments first.  After years of designing costumes at M-G-M Studios in Hollywood, in 1942 Adrian went into business for himself, making the types of clothes he had been designing for the stars – glamorous gowns and structured suits. Because of poor health, Adrian was in business for only ten years.

And while fashion changed dramatically after 1947, Adrian pretty much kept making the clothes he knew made women look beautiful, softening the strong shoulder of the 1940s only slightly. Because of this, unless a garment was pictured in period advertising or magazine copy, Adrian’s clothes can be difficult to date.  The exhibition side-stepped this problem by dating all the Adrian garments 1942 – 1952.

All the clothes in this exhibition come from Association Azzedine Alaïa, the organization that holds Alaïa’s archive.  Not only does the archive have many of Alaïa’s garments, but also thousands of items that Alaïa collected, including vintage clothing. The Association holds more than three hundred Adrian garments that had been collected by Alaïa.

An interesting side note to the story comes from California Couture, by Maureen Reilly. In writing about Adrian for her book, Reilly interviewed former high school teacher Joe Simms. In his teaching job in Philadelphia in the 1970s, Simms used the example of Adrian (and his unwillingness to conform to the New Look) to illustrate to the kids how fashion was always a subject of debate. The class took the topic a step further, and soon the school had a collection of donated Adrian garments, sketches, and fabrics. When Simms retired he had to find homes for the garments, and they ended up in various museums. In 1988 Simms was approached by Alaïa who purchased most of the Simms collection. I can’t help but wonder how many of the suits on display at SCAD FASH were once studied by Simm’s students.

The Adrian suits illustrated perfectly the title of the exhibition, as Adrian was truly a master of cut and tailoring.

These two jackets show one of the techniques for which Adrian was known – the making and shaping of jackets though piecework.

One indication of the era of manufacture was that Adrian had to stick to the wartime L-85 regulations. This includes that there could be no patch pockets, no sleeve cuffs, and the jackets could not be longer than 25″ long. I’ve read that during the war years Adrian used a lot of tie closures because metal findings were scarce.

Another collection has this same suit, but I can’t recall where. I do, however, remember the suit. Who could forget it?

Adrian also made coats, though they are not as common as his suits. At first glance this coat looks new, but the worn condition of the velvet collar shows it was well-loved by a former owner.

Adrian did make some concessions to fashion, as can be seen in the slightly softer shoulders and longer skirt length of this postwar jacket.

I had never realized that Adrian was such a user of buttons until seeing all these examples together. These are little money bags. Was he influenced by Schiaparelli’s use of whimsical buttons?

This suit is a good example of a postwar design. Both the jacket and skirt are longer, and the drape on the shoulder extends into a flowing scarf on the back. There are metal buttons and a patch pocket.

And speaking of buttons, these are little mice!

I found the suit on the right to be interesting because my friends at Style and Salvage have a coat with a red slash across the top of the bodice in the manner of the white slash on this jacket. Could they be from the same collection?

I can imagine that working in the tailoring department of Adrian was a bit like working jigsaw puzzles all day long.

Notice how the diagonal slash on the sleeve is repeated on the body of the coat. You see this repetition a lot in Adrian’s designs.

Adrian also liked self fringe, and he was fond of textiles from designer Pola Stout.  There was no indication this is a Stout fabric, but my guess is that it is.

You may have noticed the lack of bright colors. Even on his evening gowns, Adrian preferred to use muted colors.

Even when the buttons were plain plastic, Adrian made them important to the design.

I actually found this jacket  in a 1950 The Californian magazine. The curve of the collar is repeated on the pocket, the sleeve trim, and the bottom of the jacket.

As sort of an afterthought, three Adrian gowns were also on display in the gift shop.

I especially liked the print example, as it shows the other side of Adrian. He was known for designing his own fabrics, though I don’t think this is one of them. He went in for big, graphic motifs.

It was a real treat seeing so much of Adrian’s work together, and especially in conjunction with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, which I’ll show and talk about in my next post. As always, I have a few other words to say about the exhibition.

First, most of the Azzedine Alaïa pieces were positioned so that one could get a look at the back of each garment, but the Adrian pieces were lined up in a row against the wall. There was no way to see the backs of the suits. Mirrors would have been nice, but even better, the garments could be pulled away from the wall so visitors could walk behind them. The SCAD FASH exhibition area had plenty of room to do this, so it’s puzzling why they chose to limit the view of the backs of the suits.

Second, (and I know that I am bringing my own agenda into play here) I would have liked more historic context. SCAD FASH is a design museum, not a fashion history one, but there was little information about Adrian available except through the student docents and the website. In order to know about the clothes on display, you must use the provided tablets or the website on your cell phone. And the docents are there to show more  and to engage in conversation about the exhibition.

I have found the student docents always to be charming, enthusiastic, and engaged, and this visit was no exception.

This exhibition in on view through September 13, 2020, and I highly recommend it. Just do a little homework first, as they are not going to spoon feed the biography of Adrian nor that of Azzedine Alaïa. But you will get an excellent look at how the designs of Adrian influenced those of Alaïa. It’s a lesson you do not want to miss.

Next post: Azzedine Alaïa.

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Currently Reading: French Fashion: Women & the First World War

Looking through my library, I was surprised to realize how many of my favorite books are actually exhibition catalogs. If I see an exhibition that I love, I always buy the catalog if there is one, but seeing the show is not absolutely necessary when it comes to enjoying the catalog.  A note: exhibition catalogs are not for buying; they are for learning more about what is on display.

French Fashion: Women & the First World War was shown at the Bard Graduate Center in New York last fall. Unfortunately I was not about to attend, but from all the stunning photographs of the exhibition on Instagram, I knew I need to have the accompanying book.

Another great thing about exhibition catalogs is that the curators of the show are usually the writers of the book. From reading a really good exhibition catalog you can see just how much work and research goes into a show that is on view for only a few months. In this way the research keeps on giving to people like me.

I usually leave what I don’t like about a book to the end of a review, but in this case I’m just going to get it out of the way. I hate the way this book is designed. The cover is interesting, but not compelling. The more I look at it, the more I dislike it. But as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover.

My big problem with the design is in how the print is applied to the page. There’s a reason man invented the paragraph. The eye has to rest even when reading the most interesting text. I found the oldly spaced breaks to be distracting.  And look at how the text runs all the way to the margins. There’s a reason man invented margins. Without them the eye tends to run right off the page.

It took a while, but I did finally get used to the format of the text. There are nice cross-references, and the notes are well-placed. But another quirk of the book is how the illustrations were clustered together instead of being interspersed with the text. Okay, I get that I’m being picky, but the older my eyes get, the more I appreciate easy to read text. I did appreciate the size and dark color of the print.

Now that’s out of the way I can concentrate on what makes this book so good. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the research and writing of catalogs that make them such great resources. The writers and curators were Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjan, with a few of the essays being written by other scholars. There were subjects ranging from the role of gender, to the strikes of the Midinettes for better pay, to fashion counterfeiting.  All were interesting reading. Who knew that before and during the war Germans were printing fake Parisian fashion magazines and then selling them back to French consumers?

The illustration are a real asset to this book – a combination of period fashion illustrations, cartoons, newspaper articles, archival photographs, and photos of garments used in the exhibition. Most illustrations are the size of the page, so you get a really good look. Here we see how the French patriotic red, white, and blue were used in fashion illustrations.

There are lots of photos of this sort, which gives a great look at the French fashion industry during the war.

My favorite photos are a group from the Excelsior Archives showing the French working woman.  The photos are large and clear enough to see the details of work clothes of the era.

From 1917 to 1919, fashion designs could be registered with the Parisian Labor Court. The authors give us a good look at some of these, like this 1917 design and fabric swatch from the House of Worth.

I loved seeing the photos of clothing from the exhibition. I wanted to see more. This Callot Soeurs dress is from 1917.

You can see how the silhouette changed to a more tubular style as a prelude to the 1920s. Both of these dresses are by Madeleine Vionnet, 1918.

All exhibition catalogs should do this. In the back of the book are thumbnails and descriptions of all the objects in the exhibition. They are tiny, but most of them are reproduced elsewhere in the book. As a person who sees a lot of fashion exhibitions, this is a very handy reference to the details of each object.

The book is heavy, but small (8″ X 6″ X 1.5″) and so it is comfortable to hold and read.

So, I’ll not just this great book by the cover, nor by the print layout. Judging it by the content makes it a must-have for anyone interested in the fashions and culture of WWI era France.

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