Studio 54 Designers Turn Swimsuits into Evening Wear

Studio 54 fashion: Fiorucci blouse by Antonio, Stephen Burrows dress, and Zandra Rhodes gown. Courtesy: Pat Cleveland

The Seventies fashions in Studio 54: Night Magic, on display through November 8 at the Brooklyn Museum, slip, slide, drape, glitter, and sometimes seem like they’re not even there.

The entire point of going to the Studio 54 nightclub – assuming you could get in – was to shimmer, startle, reveal, exude fabulousness, and shine, shine, shine in the crowd and on the dance floor.

The Brooklyn Museum exhibition, a masterful curatorial achievement, pumps the music, flashes the lights, and runs the videotape while showing off the wunderkinds that made the Seventies 54 scene drip with glamour – Halston, Calvin, Kamali, and Burrows.

See our photos in our Flickr album.

Norma Kamali’s swimsuit top and skirt made for dancing

Although Halston and others made custom gowns for clients (and there are plenty for Liza and Liz in the exhibition), the show highlights one of their other fashion innovations that the 99 percent adopted in the Seventies ­– the swimsuit. If you had a great body, fantastic hair, and dramatic make-up, you could just throw on a bathing suit, tie on a net skirt with little sparkle, and you were ready for the club!

Designers like Kamali and Sant’Angelo partnered with fabric companies to innovate body-hugging solutions, and turned out sexy bathing suits that doubled as disco-ready separates.

One of the galleries features the fun, transparent dance skirts Antonio designed for Fiorucci that he featured in the 1977 “Fiorucci Fantasy” event he staged at Rubell and Schrager’s Queens club, The Enchanted Garden, which predated Studio 54. A video shows how Antonio’s supermodels set the New York fashion and nightlife scene ablaze.

Studio 54 coverage in the Daily News, May 4, 1977. Courtesy: Ian Schrager

For all of its influence in pop culture, it’s hard to think that Studio 54 had a lifespan of only 33 months between 1977 and 1979. The exhibition explores all of facets of the phenomenon – paparazzi, the daily tabloid fodder, Grace Jones, Andy Warhol’s goings-on, disco jeans, Interview magazine, fashion shows, and product launches.

It’s surprising to think that Doris Duke, Alan Greenspan, Lillian Carter, and Bella Abzug were just as likely to be in the club as street performance artists, Bianca Jagger, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Halston’s 1979 beaded chiffon ensemble for Liza Minelli.

To transform the old Twenties theater and TV studio into Studio 54, Schrager and Rubell tapped into the technical and artistic community to figure out how flying disco poles, set changes, and special effects could be orchestrated into a continual surprise for the partygoers. When the musical Chicago closed, designer Tony Walton repurposed his dramatic neon “Roxy” sign as a centerpiece for 54’s stage.

Some of our favorite items are the opening night guest list, Ron Galella’s celebrity photos, Antonio’s costume sketches for opening-night show by the Alvin Ailey dancers, the slideshow of their rehearsal by Juan Ramos, and the giant sapphire that Elizabeth Taylor famously wore to the club in 1979 (it’s in a safe).

Original celebrity photo portraits and Richard Bernstein illustrations for Warhol’s Interview magazine covers

Congratulations to the Brooklyn Museum staff who found and presented this amazing exhibition that lets everyone into Studio 54 to celebrity-watch nearly 40 years after the door closed on the party, and to show us how its influence still reverberates today.

1 thought on “Studio 54 Designers Turn Swimsuits into Evening Wear

  1. Hi Susan, sometime when we’re talking I’ll tell you about my cousin inheriting Cris Alexander and Shaun O’Brien’s estate. I think Cris was Andy Warhole’s photog among others.

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