Category Archives: Designers

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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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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Update on Key West Hand Print Fabrics

I’ve written quite a bit about Key West Hand Print Fabrics in the past, especially concerning their relationship with Lilly Pulitzer.  For those of you who don’t know, for years Key West Hand Prints designed and made the distinctive fabrics Pulitzer used in her dresses.

Before 1961, Key West Hand Prints was a small fabric printing business in Key West, Florida, owned by Walter Starkey. The company made small printed linens, like tea towels. In 1961, Peter Pell and Jim Russell were visiting the island when they decided it was a good place to live. They bought Key West Hand Prints and hired a designer for the prints, Suzie Zuzek dePoo. 

On the other side of Florida, another entrepreneur was at work developing a line of tropical print dresses. Lilly Pulitzer had enlisted the services of a dressmaker to make dresses in loud prints that would cover juice stains she got while working in her family business, an orange grove and juice stand. So many customers at the stand asked about Pulitzer’s dresses that she saw an opportunity to make similar dresses for sale. She learned about Key West Hand Prints and visited the island to see if she could use the prints in her new line.

For the next fourteen years (or so, as I don’t have the exact dates), Key West Hand Print Fabrics designed and made the iconic Lilly Pulitzer fabrics. The little hand print business employed as many as two hundred people during this time, and they worked around the clock to keep up with demand. They were producing fabric not only for Lilly Pulitzer, but also for their own line of dresses, labeled “Vanda Fashions, Key West Hand Prints” and for yardage that could be purchased in their Key West store. Vanda was designed by Virginia Peirce. 

Artist Suzie dePoo designed the prints, but the colors were worked out by others on the staff, including co-owner Peter Pell. Lilly Pulitzer would fly into Key West to visit with Pell and Russell and to pick out the fabrics for her next collection. They would spend the day involved in  business, and then they would retire to the bar to celebrate. 

It was a system that worked well until a new business manager hired by Pulitzer in 1976 or 77 ended the relationship between Lilly Pulitzer and Key West Hand Print Fabrics. It was a decision that ultimately harmed both businesses. Key West Hand Prints lost their largest customer, and the atmosphere of the business changed, especially for Peter Pell, who lost interest in the enterprise. Lilly Pulitzer prints changed, becoming more “fashionable” and less “Florida” and in 1984, Lilly shut down her business.

A lot of the information above was given to me by Jacq Staub, whose mother Jacquolyn was the in-house model and the merchandising manager for Key West Hand Print Fabrics. He has shared with me all these stories as well as some wonderful photos.  The model in all these photos is Jacq’s mother. In the photo at the top, Jacquolyn is modeling a caftan that was ordered for Elizabeth Taylor.

Key West Hand Prints was a casual, family business, though most of the staff were not actually related. Jacq refers to Pell and Russell as Uncle Peter and Uncle Jim, though they were actually his godfathers. The photo above was taken in Vanda’s design studio, and was used for the company’s catalog.

Here’s another look at that distinctive corner in Vanda’s studio. These photos were taken in the early 1970s.

This photo wasn’t dated, but the hairstyles sure are saying mid to late 1960s. Just when we thought men were going to loosen up in their clothing choices, Dress for Success came along and swept it all away.

Here’s Uncle Jim and Jacquolyn at a fashion show in 1973.

The designer holding onto Peter Pell? Lilly Pulitzer, of course! And how about those printed jeans?

So, where is Key West Hand Prints today? The owners are long gone, but Key West Fashions continued in business until 2007. The original screens used to make the prints and the dye formulations were bought by Ed Swift, who stored the items for years. It appears that these items have now been sold, with the new owner exploring the possibility of reopening the print business.

It also appears that there is also a book, exhibition, and film about Key West Hand Prints in the works. Behind this project is the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, a division of the Smithsonian. It will be interesting to see how they tell the story, as many of the people involved with Key West Hand Print are still with us.  It’s a chance to tell the story of a unique American textile business that had a lasting influence on how we dress. 

My thanks to Jacq Staub for the photos and the stories.

 

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Currently Reading – Mary Quant

This new book, Mary Quant, is the catalog (of sorts) of an exhibition currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  The exhibition and book have been a long time in coming. I’m not going to fight the old did-she-or-did-she-not invent the mini skirt, but I am going to say that Quant’s work influenced how we all dressed in the Sixties and beyond.

Before this book, the best account of Quant’s life was her autobiography with was published at the height of her career in 1966. And while the book is fantastic, it was a bit of a letdown to a person like me who tends to dwell on details. The lack of dates in the book was extremely annoying.

But curator and author Jenny Lister and her collaborators on this book have definitely filled in those gaps. It was greatly enhanced by an appeal on the museum’s social media sites to get women to share their Mary Quant stories from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Some of the stories and the garments connected to them actually ended up in the exhibition and the book.

Besides showing many of the garments shown in the exhibition, we also get to see photos from the Quant archive of the clothes as worn by models. This Ginger Group dress probably dates from 1966.

Here’s the same dress in a different colorway. The V&A acquired this dress for the exhibition. I know this because they got it, and another one, from my friends at Style and Salvage.

Because the curator had access to the Mary Quant archive, we are treated to the supporting material of many of the designs featured.

This dress, “Stampede”, is quite early, 1962. Skirts were getting shorter, but the mini was still a couple of years in the future.

In 1963 Quant released her Ginger Group line. It was less expensive than the clothes she made for her own Bazaar boutiques, and was wholesaled to stores. The Quant girls in the ad were designed by Maureen Roffey.

The dresses in the whimsical advertising were actual clothes included in the line. Do you recognize the famous face on the left?

And here are the design details for the dress on the right in the ad. It dates to 1965.

With the exception of the three Bazaar boutiques which were all closed by 1969, Mary Quant was a wholesaler. She maintained a design and sewing workroom to make samples, but her clothes were made by other firms. She (or actually Archie McNair, her partner along with her husband Alexander Plunkett Green) made lots of deals to sell her designs. In the US, JC Penney made and sold Quant designs, as well as Puritan. Starting in 1964 Butterick patterns released Quant designs as part of their Young Designer line.

Often the clothes designed for one line ended up in some of the other collaborations. Some of the Butterick patterns are very similar to the JC Penney clothes. The early Butterick design above was also produced as a completed garment.

To a collector and complete label fanatic, this chart is incredibly helpful. The Quant labels have been confusing people (me) for years, but the V&A staff was able to match extant garments with dated material with the archive to come up with this lovely timeline. Because of this I was able to correct some errors in the VFG Label Resource, and to more correctly date the three Quant garments in my own collection.

People interested in the history and culture of the Sixties will want to read this one, as well as those of us who grew up in the Age of Quant. The only beef I have with the book is that as a catalog of the exhibition, it is not complete. I’ve seen so many Instagram photos of the exhibition that I know that much more was included than what we are shown in the book. I wish they had at least included a listing with thumbnail photos of the entire exhibition.

There’s still plenty of time to catch Mary Quant at the Victoria and Albert. It’s on until February 16, 2020.

 

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Givenchy for Jantzen Antibes Bathing Suit

The more one collects, the more you realize that it really is all about the good stuff. If you read any book or article targeted toward the beginning collector you will read that you should, “Buy the best you can afford.” It’s true.

I do a lot of thinking about the pieces that really need to be represented in my collection. One such item is a glamorous black 1950s bathing suit. I actually had one – a Jantzen – but it just did not give off the sophisticated vibe I was after. I sold it.

So I was back at square one, with no black bathing suit of my dreams. Luckily, I have friends.

I have written about Style and Salvage before. Mel and Jeff are two of the most knowledgeable vintage sellers I know, and to have them in my own backyard is an incredible thing. They have sourcing secrets that go way beyond the local resources, and I’m always amazed at the incredible things they turn up.

On a visit a while back I knew I’d found my black 1950s bathing suit.

From 1956 through 1959 Jantzen made a line of bathing suits, some with matching cover-ups and skirts. French couturier Hubert de Givenchy designed suits for the line in 1957 and 1958.

For Jantzen and only for Jantzen, Givenchy, the free-spirited ringleader of creative art in the Paris couture, has designed a marvelous collection of avant-garde swim suits. This is one, “Antibes”, in fabulous new elasticized crepe, in inspirational modern art colors. $25

Twenty-five dollars was pretty pricey for a bathing suit in 1957. The inflation calculator puts it at almost $230 in 2019 dollars. That could be why these are so rarely seen today.

Sometimes good design means knowing when and when not to embellish.  Givenchy knew this suit needed only a small bow to anchor the straps.

Thanks to Style and Salvage for the use of their photos, and especially for the exceptionally fine suit!

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Kimono Refashioned at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The main reason for our recent trip to Cincinnati was to view the current fashion exhibition there, Kimono Refashioned: Japan’s Impact on International Fashion. The second I read that many of the garments in this exhibition were from the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, I knew this was an exhibition I simply could not miss.

From the first exhibit (above) to the last, this was a feast for the eye and the mind. At the end of the exhibition the museum had set up ipads for visitors to give feedback. One of the questions was, “Did you learn anything from this exhibition?” I actually saw and learned so much that I had no idea on how to respond.

The garment in the foreground was refashioned from a small sleeved kimono called a kosode. The bodice and overskirt were made by court dressers Misses Turner around 1876.

The exhibition included many diagrams to help visitors visualize the concepts presented. Here you get a good picture of how a kimono could be disassembled and cut into pieces to make a fashionable Western dress.

The garment in the background of the top photo is kimono styled in the manner of Western dress with a wide belt instead of an obi. The big difference between the remodeled dress and the original kimono is a matter of shape. In the Western dress the body conforms to the garment; in kimono the garment conforms to the body. In other words kimono is flat, whereas an 1870s dress is three dimensional.

But there’s more to refashioning the idea of kimono than merely cutting one apart to make a Western style dress. In the late nineteenth century Japonism was a very popular area of collecting. Many artists and fashion designers were collectors of Japanese prints and clothing. One collector was the designer of this dress, Jacques Doucet. Dating from the late 1890s, the dress has a typical silhouette of the day, but the applied iris ornamentation was inspired by Japan. There is even a relatively unadored area around the waist, as if the dress might have an obi.

This evening coat from around 1910 more clearly shows the influence of kimono in the  loose shape and the motif of the brocade.

This loose fitting evening coat is from Chanel, and was made around 1927. The gold chrysanthemum motif is woven into the silk fabric.

The sleeve cuffs are padded, much in the manner of padded hems commonly seen in kimono.

This dress from Lucile dates to around 1910. The influence of kimono is clearly seen in the wide sash that imitates the obi, the loose fit, the dolman sleeves, and the wrap front.

Sorry about the sorry quality, but I did want to show off the front, if for no other reason than to point out what a great job was done by the exhibition designers in making a plan that allows the visitor to see both the front and the back of the garments. This is so important if one is to get a good understanding of how a garment works.

The back of an evening coat from the House of Worth…

and the front, circa 1910. The wrap front and the dip in the back of the neck are both borrowed from kimono.

And here is the front of this amazing coat from French couturier Georges Doeuillet.

Motif and shape tell us this circa 1913 coat from Amy Linker was heavily influenced by kimono. In fact, this style coat was referred to as a manteau Japonaise  in French fashion publications.

Scattered throughout the exhibition were actual kimono, like this early twentieth century example.

The evening coat is attributed to Liberty & Company, and the dress beneath is a Fortuny Delphos gown. The ideas adapted from kimono went perfectly with other garments associated with the dress reform movement.

Does it get any better than this?

This dress is a 1920s Paul Poiret. It is a one-piece dress that was constructed to look like a haori worn over a kimono, with the sash serving as an obi.

This Vionnet dress brings us back to the idea of flat garments. The 1924 dress uses an adapted T motif, which is patched together from pieces of gold and silver lamé.

Also from Vionnet is this wedding dress from 1922. It’s not quite as obvious, but this dress is also made almost entirely from square and rectangular pieces.

Another great feature of this exhibition was the use of paintings that showed the influence of Japonism on Western culture. This 1890 work, Girl in a Japanese Costume is by American artist William Merritt Chase and was on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.

And I’ll end this tour with a look at another kimono from Cincinnati Art Museum’s collection. The exhibition pointed out that the origins of the kimono have been traced back to the Han Dynasty in China. So you see, borrowing good ideas from other cultures is nothing new. I’ll revisit this idea next week.

I am only covering one half of the exhibition because photos were not allowed in the second half which featured more modern garments. I will just say that the more I see the work of Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo, the more I understand and love it.

Most of the garments were from the Kyoto collection, with other coming from Cincinnati. The show was a collaboration between those two museums, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Newark Museum. It will be on display through September 15. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

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