When DIY Fashion and Couture Were the Same Thing

John Sebastian’s 1967 performance cape, jacket, and pants, which he tie-dyed himself

Imagine a time before designer logos, no one asked “who you are wearing,” and your sartorial status was ranked according to DIY embellishments and colorful, theatrical approaches to materials that telegraphed a strong social-political message.

The current show at Museum of Art and Design (MAD), Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, on display through August 20, is a tribute to the Sixties and Seventies when Hollywood, rock royalty, rich kids, hippies, and living-off-the-land types all marched to their distinctive fashion beats.

At Columbus Circle, two floors of fashion take you on a journey through hand-crafted masterworks of several copacetic subcultures who carried out the youth revolution over sixty years ago — acid trippers, antiwar protesters, peace-and-love advocates, commune dwellers, hashish users, Dashiki wearers, and the all-nature/all-natural advocates.

100% Birgitta’s crocheted 1969 Rainbow Ensemble with Large Pendant

In a war on conformity and Mad-Men style, the counterculture of Southern California, the San Francisco Bay, and the Village turned to wild color, hand-dyed fabric, tribal inspiration, oversize accessories, personalized embroidery, and repurposed materials to declare individuality and a better, more peaceful world.

John Sebastian’s tie-dyed cape, shirt, and pants on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame remind you that long before Gwen Stefani, rock stars once styled themselves and made their own clothes. Theatrics and performance was important, whether it was Woodstock, street theater, or East Village happenings.

Apple Cobbler’s Mickey McGowan made custom shoes and boots from brocade (no leather) and traveled with a suitcase full of client foot patterns, ready to spring into action whenever a rock drummer needed to replace his favorite footwear. In the late Sixties, the must-have item for starlets was a colorful crocheted seaside ensemble by 100% Brigitta.

Nina Huryn’s 1971 painted tooled leather jacket, typical of custom pieces she made for rockstar clients

Take a look at the installation views on MAD’s website, and then go in for a closer look on our Flickr album.

By the late Seventies, some clothing artists, such as K. Lee Manuel, were making one-of-a-kind pieces and selling them through small wearable-art-style shops. Others like Nina Huryn continued doing custom pieces for Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and other rock superstars. At least one — Christopher Crookedstitch — had a team of craftspeople staining homespun cotton, making self-fringe, and applying beads in a teepee workshop.

On the other hand, you might just do your own thing, such as the hand-embroidered, appliqued U.S. Army coat made as a protest or the highly studded and embellished Levis jacket that transformed a machine-made uniform into a work of art. MAD shows a small collection of winners from its 1973 Levis contest (when it was still named the American Craft Museum).

1970 man’s vest from a rice sack by Sandra Van Meter, who dressed her family in humble handmade clothing

Although the clothing isn’t as flashy, the exhibit showcases the caftans and simple linen clothes favored by less-is-more commune dwellers. Although the curators feature some fairly fancy embellished pieces by designer Alexandra Jacopetti Hart, they also note that she founded the home-sewing pattern company, Folkways, which offered a template for anyone to take a slightly historical style (think pioneers and buccaneer shirts) and craft it into their own personal statement.

The do-it-yourself component is only emphasized by a framed Simplicity pattern from the Seventies.

Don’t miss the spectacular tie-dyed panels by Marian Clayden, who also had a fashion label and designed all the textiles for the original production of Hair. Although it’s not a technique in fashion today, confronting work by this master will let you experience why the mystery and transcendence of her craft led so many to get out the Rit dye and try it at home.

Close up of tie-dyed hanging by Marian Clayden

Thanks to the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State, who originated the show.

The Woman Behind the Beautiful Bags

Judith channels the era of the space race with a futuristic smoky Lucite egg with gold frame and chain, 1968

You’ve seen them on the red carpet, in the hands of First Ladies, and gleaming cases at Bergdorfs. Tiny glittery sculptures sized to fit in the palm of a hand.

The show at MAD, Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story, which closes August 6, gives a well-deserved look at the innovator behind these creations, showcases the many ways Leiber elevated the evening bag, and tells a dramatic story of how an immigrant came to the United States with technical knowledge and flair for an up-to-then unexploited corner of the accessories market.

Take a walk through the show with our Flickr album.

The exhibition in MAD’s Tiffany galleries is an ethereal, low-light showcase of some of Leiber’s most dazzling creations. Putting the primary focus on her lifetime output of handbags-as-art, her life story is conveyed discretely in an understated corner through a few photos and an illuminating timeline.

Leiber’s 21st century Mondrian-inspired bag, 2000

Growing up in Budapest, Judith went to London to take liberal arts courses and intended to study chemistry there to enter the booming European cosmetics business. But the 1939 outbreak of World War II forced her to go to Plan B – sticking close to home and working with the Hungarian luxury brand, the House of Pessl, learning the craftsmanship of fine ladies’ handbags.

As the show notes, with the advent of train travel and emphasis on ladies’ luggage, handbags became a fashionable accessory in the mid-to-late 19th century. With its spas, lavish restaurants, and pastry palaces, Budapest catered to the aristocratic trade in just about everything, including carrying cases and bags. Leiber was in a good spot to learn from the best and became the only female member of the local handbag guild.

Presented to Hillary Clinton in 1997 for her husband’s second inaugural.

When Germany took over Hungary in 1944, she and her family were relocated to a ghetto where they endured economic deprivation and witnessed persecutions that came to an end when Russia liberated the city in 1945.

Channeling her skills into creating bags for military buyers, Judith met and married a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps – Gus – who would take her back to New York, encourage her to start her own business, and eventually run her company.

Her big break in the New York Garment District was supplying a handbag to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at her husband’s 1956 inauguration. Although Judith was working for designer Nettie Rosenstein, everyone heard about the Judith Leiber-designed handbag and she made a splash.

Leiber’s first rhinestone bag 1967 – an ingenious solution to hide a discolored brass frame

Ten years later, Judith began her own handbag company. Good thing that she was able to do it all, from making a pattern, to designing the frames, and executing it all right down to the finish. When a brass frame arrived in her workshop with surface defects, she had the idea to cover the defects with rhinestones, and launched the look that would distinguish her at inaugural balls, New York society galas, and Hollywood premieres – the jewel-encrusted minaudière.

The side gallery is packed with her signature pieces, crystal-covered minaudières crafted to resemble animals, food, and Chinese-inspired dressing table items. On the other side of the exhibition is a small case with wax sculptures by Lawrence Kallenberg, who worked a lifetime with Judith to create the 3-D templates that the Italian foundry uses to fabricate the brass cases.

The exhibition is a beautiful display of her lifetime of work, featuring both the first bejeweled bag and her last design in 2004, emphasizing the inspiration she took from 20th century artists and textiles of world cultures. Among the most stunning creations are bags made from embroidered antique obis, Asian ribbons, and even American patchwork quilts.

Penguin minaudière, 1991

Suspended in air and shown off in mirrored cases, the curators create a mood that allows visitors to contemplate how Leiber’s eye, wit, and skill transformed the lowly carryall into a lifetime of unique, ingenious, dazzling art.

See the beautiful bags here.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Always-Modern Style

Modern black-and-white dressing even in 1917. Photo: Stieglitz.

Like any home sewer, she was fond of certain fabrics and put a lot of love and care into crafting something she wore (and wore out) through important decades of her life.

In Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art through July 23, you will experience the pristine care this home sewer gave her hand-tucked tunics for over 60 years after she made them – crème silk, tiny stitches, thin bow ties, and shortened hems, all from the 1920s.

Brooklyn’s had a blockbuster season with this O’Keeffe show. It’s where Georgia had her first museum show in 1927, when she was a fixture on the high-art scene in New York, wearing a dramatic evening wraparound coat with rainbow-surprise lining – an upscale step from the loden cape that was her signature look a few years earlier.

Although many knew her for her Southwestern landscapes, she studied at the Art Students League and got her teachers training at Columbia in New York City. Only then did she take a teaching gig out west at Texas A&M. Stieglitz, her future husband was already showing her work in New York.

Clean lines of handmade silk dresses that Georgia made in the early 1920s.

For years, Georgia lived in Midtown, not too far from Bergdorf’s and other fancy shops. Although she chose an austere, modern look, the proximity to luxury and knowing the detail behind how elegant clothes was part of who she was.

Glimpse items from the show on our Flickr feed.

Once she moved out west permanently after Stieglitz passed, she adopted a select portfolio of western wear – denim shirts, 501s or Lady Levis, and rubber-soled PF sport shoes. No crazy fringe or cowboy frou frou.

Although there are no photos of it in the show, the curators say that her iconic adobe home featured mid-century modern furniture. It’s interesting how she kept up with modern fashion and surrounded herself with sophisticated, sleek lines from her remote perch in New Mexico’s redlands.

Working McCardell and a concho belt in this 1956 Todd Webb photo

She acquired one of the first Puccis sold in the United States – a stark black-and-white “chute” dress — and had a beloved collection of Marimekko and Clare McCardell sport dresses. She felt that McCardell was the greatest designer America had ever produced. So much so, she had the designs copied by local seamstresses.

Georgia’s trips back to New York included stops at Bergdorf’s and at her favorite old neighborhood tailor. Although she wasn’t sewing anymore, she invested a lot of effort to work with meticulous artists who could fashion austere black wool suits into the perfect expression of her, with just a subtle detail added her or there.

The paintings, clothes, and photographs coexist throughout the show, informing your vision of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.

It’s quite remarkable to realize that every great photographer (in addition to her husband) sought her out (or received an assignment) to capture her no-nonsense image – Ansel Adams, Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, and Annie Liebowitz.

Sparkling 1980s Warhol shows how Andy feels about Georgia.

Appropriately, one of the highlights is the miniscule Polaroid that Andy snapped of Georgia some time in the Eighties. Her head is closely wrapped in her signature black scarf and she’s as serious-looking as she can be. Andy used it as the basis of a photo-silkscreen portrait that he sprinkled with diamond dust, which gives it an Interview magazine quality.

The piece is surrounded by fashion multiples, large-scale portraits by other famous photographers, big painted abstractions, and multiple images where she sports her Calder art-piece brooch. Her all-knowing, of-the-moment glittery visage peering out of the Warhol frame shows Georgia right in tune with the the modern, changing times.

Watch this brief overview of the show:

Georgia’s multiples from the 1960s — Balenciaga suit, copies, and custom pieces and slacks.

Scraps = Fashion Design

Poly “fabric” and tote by Milan’s Luisa Cevese, featuring artfully arranged clumps of recycled silk thread.

On Earth Day weekend, there’s no better place to contemplate beauty, fashion, and style than walking through the Cooper-Hewitt’s show “Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse,” on display through April 23.

The curators decided to shine a spotlight on several designers who have been inspired to probe ways in which cast-offs from garment and fabric manufacturing can be turned into fashionable, beautiful items so that the ever-churning cycle of production can become more of a closed loop and rely less upon consumption of raw material.

Luisa Cevese, a Milan-based designer who worked in research for Italy’s high-end silk industry, wondered if there was a way to recycle the waste from the production process – large quantities of silk selvedge (ends) and assorted silk threads thrown off from the looms. The Smithsonian shows us a collection of her results – waterproof polyurethane bags featuring these colorful production scraps in stripes or whimsical arrangements. Take a look at the Flickr album.

Christina Kim’s choga and slip made from recycled hand spun, hand woven cotton saris.

Luisa was encouraged and inspired by the attitude toward recycling in India, where no one can afford to waste the precious fabric used in saris. When someone’s done with an old, worn-out sari, they are cleaned, repaired, and refashioned for buyers on the secondary market. Hems might be shortened, or other alterations made. Luisa gave the same treatment to these bits of exotic silk – embedding scraps into polyurethane for re-use in other items.

Christina Kim, based in Los Angeles, has long worked with local artisans in India and Mexico to repurpose scraps into full garments and scarves so that there is zero waste. Her approach represents a commitment to sustainable fashion that is not out of sync with other, more large-scale manufacturers. Check out some of the processes used on the exhibition site.

Watch this video of a recent conversation between Eileen Fischer and Patagonia’s Nellie Cohen at the Cooper Hewitt about how their clothing companies are reusing textiles and innovating a “closed production cycle”.

Adrian Goes Beyond Hollywood at FIT

1949 Vogue magazine spread with Adrian’s dress of Bianchini-Férier silk taffeta

The FIT graduate students have hit the mark again in their show Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond, running through April 1 at the upstairs museum gallery.

Although there are film clips aplenty showcasing the Hollywood designer’s work, this exhibition explores the connection that Adrian made between his work on the silver screen, his collaboration with American and French fabric designers, and addressing the ready-to-wear market.

After achieving worldwide recognition for his glamorous Hollywood costumes and the iconic Americana gingham dress in The Wizard of Oz, Adrian thought he might go slightly more mass market. Why not capitalize on the ability to channel an American sensibility and Thirties glamour and make it more widely accessible?

Organic piecing in an artistic 1945 ready-to-wear evening ensemble

A lover of art and fan of surrealism, Adrian opened his first salon in Beverly Hills in 1942 and collaborated with American fabric manufacturers to give the added zing to his collections.

Right from the start, Adrian offered customers amazing cuts on sharp suits, intricate construction (go, mitered seams!), fool-the-eye appliques, and exquisite draping of innovative, bold prints.

The curators cleverly present swaths of uncut fabric next to print ads featuring Adrian’s creations using the same bold designs – leopard print, surrealist-inspired fantasy, and even festive chickens from the farm. It’s all flair from start to finish, and a nice focus on a time when fabrics were made in America, Seventh Avenue (and Hollywood) ruled, and consumers craved quality.

Although Adrian continued designing for Hollywood right through his ready-to-wear years, the show ends with Technicolor clips from films that include dramatic fashion shows featuring fantasy clothes for beach, sun, and salons.

1952 fashion-show costume from Lovely to Look At

As always, the FIT student crew has created a beautiful web exhibition for the show, but you can also look closely at the details on some of our favorite Adrian flourishes and fabrics in our Flickr album.

Great work, FIT graduates!

All in the Details: The Met’s Fashion Masterworks

French 1790s tailcoat with ombré silk satin stripes, typical of young men’s post-revolutionary fashion

French 1790s tailcoat with ombré silk satin stripes, typical of young men’s post-revolutionary fashion

When the Met unpacks masterpieces from its costume collection and talks about its acquisition strategy of late, it pays to take a very close look.

To celebrate 70 years of the Costume Institute, the Met has showcased its recent acquisitions in Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion, beginning with the 18th century when fashion-forward meant exquisite textiles, weaving, embroidery, and tailoring. In those days, all the rich textiles were loomed by hand.

The crisp, clean dresses and dressing gowns on display are in superb condition, showcasing the skill taken in the smallest jacquard, sheen, stripe, set-in sleeve, and pannier. See what we mean as we zero in on the fine details in our Flickr album.

Look closely and you’ll see the 18th-century silk gown embellished with three types of silver thread to maximize its glitter power by candlelight. Enjoy the dazzling stripes of post-Revolutionary menswear and gender-referenced ladies’ jackets.

Poiret’s 1911 kimono-inspired draped silk damask opera coat embellished with silk cord

Poiret’s 1911 kimono-inspired draped silk damask opera coat embellished with silk cord

The 19th-century was all about the rise of the designer label, even though ready-to-wear was rearing its head by the turn of the century. The Met showcases a gem acquired from the Brooklyn Museum collection in 2009, a butterfly gown by Worth, the first designer who truly became a household name. Check out the handwork on those butterflies.

In 1903, Poiret began a two-year stint at Worth, but recognized that as he saw well-heeled clients in crinolines, bustles, and coronation-worthy garb, a new revolution in style was percolating.

In record time, Poiret founded his own fashion house, offering women more ease and artistry as they adopted a more liberated, 20th-century lifestyle. Poiret’s 1911 opera coat shows his unique combination of luxurious fabrics, the column-shape kimono look, and bold artisan knotting for women looking for a fashion-forward twist.

Azzedine Alaia’s 1994 slinky, downy knit dress next to its inspiration, “La Sirene” (1951-52) by legend Charles James

Azzedine Alaia’s 1994 slinky, downy knit dress next to its inspiration, La Sirene (1951-52) by Charles James

Nearby, Madame Vionnet’s transparent Twenties frock with Futurist embroidery still looks right today.

Throughout the show, closing this weekind, the Met pairs contemporary looks with the more classic and iconic styles that inspired them –  Galliano with 1780s French dandies, the 2015 House of Dior with the original “New Look,” and Alaia next to Charles James. How does Mr. James do it? A close look at the pairings reveals new takes on pleating, finely turned collars, custom-created textile, and engineering marvels.

Look at Balenciaga’s perfectly cut minimal silk gazar dress that billows out as one enters a room. Or Thom Browne’s masterful appliques on men’s and ladies’ looks from last year. Or Sarah Burton’s fool-the-eye butterfly dress for McQueen. The wings are really feathers.

Sarah Burton’s 2011 McQueen dress uses feathers cut, dyed, and painted to resemble butterfly wings

Sarah Burton’s 2011 McQueen dress uses feathers cut, dyed, and painted to resemble butterfly wings

Many stunning recent works were donated by designers to honor the retirement of legendary Met curator Harold Koda, who turned over the reins of the Costume Institute to Andrew Bolton. What a tribute!

Donatella donated a reproduction of her brother’s iconic safety-pin dress. Comme des Garcons donated a mind-bending crochet-and-lace frock by Rei Kawakubo.

Visit the exhibition site to see the gallery installations, check out the Flickr album for details, and join assistant curator Jessica Regan in a brief video overview of this exquisite show.

Antonio Lopez: When Fashion Danced Off the Page

Antonio's 1986 Vanity illustration of Tina and Mick Jagger

Antonio’s 1986 illustration of Tina and Mick Jagger for Vanity

Music, fashion, and art were never mixed up so deliciously as when Antonio was working in the studio, surrounded by breakdancers, supermodels, street accessories, and couture. Glimpse the pulsing lines and beat at El Museo del Barrio’s celebratory exhibition Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion through this weekend.

With his partner, Juan Ramos, the dynamic duo changed the way the fashion industry thought about drawing, line, color and style, infusing the typically staid haute couture with ethnic twists, flair, and celebrity in a way no one before had dared. Pencil or conte crayon in hand, Antonio broke down barriers and walls, infusing the New York and Parisian fashion worlds with lively banter, music, and beauty that only a savvy, streetwise Puerto Rican New Yorker could.

The show is a tribute to the 360-degree life that produced the America’s greatest fashion illustrator during the Mod- and disco-infused Sixties and Seventies.

Dynamic 1973-74 pencil drawing for Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine

Dynamic 1973-74 pencil drawing for Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine

The early work from the Seventies is tight, controlled, and more-or-less a jigsaw puzzle of drafting mastery. Witness the Gentleman’s Quarterly illustrations mixing menswear, muscle, and motorcycles, which were considered too racy for the day. Futurist angles, pointed pencils, and lavish details will blow you away.

Around the same time, American master Charles James took note of this FIT wunderkind, asking Antonio to document his entire archive of sumptuous gowns and daywear. Although this ten-year collaboration is not featured in the Fifth Avenue show, look here to see the digital library of Antonio’s work for James, now in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

As the style cauldrons of Fiorucci, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54 amped up, Antonio and Juan began curating their entourage of uptown and downtown style divas, which included legends Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall, and Grace Jones.

Photo of Antonio surrounded by "Antonio's girls" in the 1980s Installation views of “Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion” El Museo del Barrio New York, New York June 14 – November 27, 2016

Antonio’s Girls surround him in the 1980s

The message: live and draw large. Subjects for illustrated fashion spreads were styled, posed, and recorded in Antonio’s hand, all to a pulsing beat. To get everyone in the mood, innovative street dance crews were given free rein to spin, pop, and twirl during the sessions.

No wonder that Antonio’s mature work leaps off the page, lines swirling, accessories flying. Publications like Vogue, The New York Times, and Warhol’s Interview just had to have it, and published his drawings over and over.

In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, it’s hard to over-emphasize how revolutionary Antonio’s vision was at the time. His two-dimensional visualizations left fashion photography in the dust. As Ms. Missoni once said, “He transformed the clothes.” Take a look at the Flickr feed.

A 1983 pencil and gouache drawing of totally glorified Maria Snyder

A 1983 pencil and gouache drawing of totally glorified Maria Snyder. Collection: Narciso Rodriquez

El Museo is distributing copies of the Interview magazine issue that Antonio and Juan edited. Pick it up as you peruse the serious sampling of celebrity-infused work in the show – Tina Chow, Karl Lagerfeld, Billy Idol, and Tina, to name a few. To give exhibition goers a feel for the pizzazz in Antonio’s work and life, there are videos of break dancers in his studio and a great video of him working from a live model as part of a drawing demo for students at his alma mater, FIT.

Too bad that Valentin de Boulogne (Caravaggio’s follower, currently on view at the Met, who also styled and staged models) lived 350 years too early to enjoy this joyful, breakneck, vibrant 20th-century beautiful-people scene with subjects jumping out of the picture frame.

It’s hard to underestimate the influence Antonio had on the cultural beat of New York in the Seventies and Eighties. It was all about the mix – high art, pop art, high fashion, street style, and ethnic culture.

Take a look at Antonio’s 1983 workshop at Pasedena’s ArtCenter College of Design, and see the master at work creating, staging, and transforming what he sees and feels with gestures as large as Pollack’s:

FIT Matches Uniformity with Nonconformity

Detail from British Royal Rifle Corps “Mess Dress” Jacket (1900), a possible inspiration for Ralph Lauren

Detail from British Royal Rifle Corps “Mess Dress” Jacket (1900), a possible inspiration for Ralph Lauren?

Whether you pass a flight attendant in the airport, see an EMS pro at work on the street, watch a referee on TV, or place an order with the counterperson at your favorite fast-food chain, you may not immediately see the individual who is wearing the uniform. You just perceive that a professional is at work.

But how does the uniform design create your perception? And who designed the uniform? What signal does it send?

Conversely, how do designers take inspiration from uniforms and design looks that make us think that the wearer is a rule-breaker, a nonconformist, or chic, stylish person?

The Museum at FIT provides the answers on its website and in its first-floor show Uniformity through November 19, an illuminating tribute to history and fashion that shows how conformity and troubled times can serve as springboards for creativity, expression, and whimsy in the larger cultural landscape.

Michael Kors camouflage (2013)

Michael Kors camouflage (2013)

The introductory video features Thom Browne explaining how he took inspiration from executive and schoolboy uniforms for his groundbreaking Milan show in 2009.

The show then unfolds by juxtaposing high fashion with uniforms from FIT’s collection, organized into neat themes – military, domestic, sport, work, and school. Here’s our Flickr album of our favorites from these themes.

Right up front, the curators provide a visual backstory to the evolution of the US/European military uniforms with two galleries and an iPad that show what British and US soldiers wore over the last 240 years. The experience makes you think about who put the navy into Navy (it was adopted in 1802) and shows that ladies and kids wearing “sailor suits” is a 100-plus-year tradition in fashion.

Mainbocher’s well-cut 1942 uniform for the U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. (1942) and Chanel’s chic military-inspired ensemble (1960)

Mainbocher’s well-cut 1942 U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. uniform and Chanel’s chic military-inspired ensemble (1960)

Although the 21st-century gown by Galliano and the in-you-face statement by Kors demonstrates how transgressive camouflage can look on the runway, Claire McCardell’s little boxy 1947 jacket reminds us how Ike’s WWII U.S. Army Air Corps look kept going for nearly a decade as an icon in the booming US ready-to-wear sportswear market. Both guys and gals had to sport that neat, pulled together look atop their rompers, sport shorts, and khakis.

The hot pink Fiorucci jumpsuit that telegraphed hipness in NYC disco fashion in the Seventies is right at home next to the 1970s Coast Guard flight suit in fire-resistant orange synthetic. As these two electric pieces fight for attention, the curators leaves us to ponder their genesis in the 1940s olive wool Air Force flight suit.

A nearby juxtaposition switches to uniforms as muted, minimalist understatement – the soothing side-by-side designs for worn by WWI and WWII nurses with the barely-there Nineties work coat adopted by the seamstresses and magic-makers at Martin Margiela’s deconstructivist atelier.

1993 Vivienne Westwood baseball cap

1993 Vivienne Westwood baseball cap

Gernreich channels schoolgirls, Vivienne Westwood mimics logo-branded baseball caps, and Ungaro reinterprets collegiate-sports jerseys right across from vintage Princeton blazers from the Twenties and Forties.

The creative takes on all the different types of uniforms screams whimsy and fun for the fashion forward.

One of the show’s highlights, however, is a philosophical look back by the designer who made so many of America’s most familiar uniforms happen — Avis, TWA, FedEx, and McDonalds. Listen as FIT sits down with Stan Herman to talk about his work, life, and the uniforms he created and wore:

Mizrahi Shows His Colors at Jewish Museum

An early 1988 look in orange-orange wool – scarf, coat, and jumpsuit

An early 1988 look in orange-orange wool – scarf, coat, and jumpsuit

For a shot of color and inspiration to let creative impulses run free, trot up to the second floor of the Jewish Museum to see the closing day of the tribute to one of New York’s favorite sons — “Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History”. It’s open late tonight until 8 pm.

Isaac has filled four galleries with the results of his imagining in the worlds of fashion, theater, and film, showing how it’s done when you have so many talents, so many ideas, interest in everything, and so little time. You just do it all.

The entry to the show is a wall of organized color, all pulled from his meticulously organized archive of fabrics and color swatches – a great introduction to a brilliant mind harnessed to bring a little more beauty and whimsy into the world.

Inspired by elevator padding – silk quilting and grosgrain go to the ball in 2005

Inspired by elevator padding – silk quilting and grosgrain go to the ball in 2005

Beyond that, the first room – mostly from his early 1990 collections – is a riot of color   featuring his high-low approach to style: pair something everyday (like a T-shirt or bomber jacket) with silk-taffeta glamor (like a ball-gown skirt). This is where Isaac made his splash into the world of fashion, and it’s a fun, exciting introduction to the rest of the exhibit.

The curators have mounted his fashion sketches floor to ceiling in a small gallery, showing how Isaac maps out his fashion shows like storyboarding a movie. The room also reveals his passion for drawing, his favorite part of creating a collection.

Another gallery gives a nod to his theatrical costuming work and the next features two ensembles that demonstrate his interest in everyday style and good causes: Isaac was one of the first big-name designers work with Target, and here we see one of those 2004 sweaters.

Sketches with swatches organize the run of show

Sketches with swatches organize the run of show

His Coca-Cola sequined dress grew out of his collaboration with a charity that employed the homeless to collect and flatten discarded cans. Isaac had a Parisian couture house cut the smashed metal into sequins and had them hand-embroidered – another think-about-the-world creation.

Witty, wonderful, and full of life – Isaac’s accessories, film, fashions, and colors should inspire you to get a little more creative with your own day to day. Visit via our Flickr album, watch the Isaac video snippets, and listen to the audio tour the show.

For more Isaac right here, watch his conversation with editor Wendy Goodman on style and the pressures of starting out in the fashion industry.

Met Refuses to Draw Line Between Art, Technology, and Fashion

Sara Burton’s 2013 ensemble for McQueen: laser-cut pony skin bonded to leather, machine-sewn and finished with Mongolian lamb

Lasers: Sara Burton’s 2013 ensemble for McQueen: laser-cut pony skin bonded to leather, machine-sewn and finished with Mongolian lamb

As cool as an iPhone and as meticulously engineered, the Met’s new blockbuster Costume Institute show — Manus + Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology — asks you to think about the frocks you’re seeing: does a designer’s reliance on technology diminish the artistic value of haute couture, which has for centuries relied upon handcrafted structure and embellishment?

See for yourself before August 14 and click here to look at the details in our Flickr album.

The show is a meditation on the beauty that can come when great design minds have centuries-old craft collide with technology. It helps to have gazzilions of resources (hands in Paris) at your disposal. The result: really good art and wondrous feats of engineering that just happens to be fashion.

There’s plenty to ponder and repeat visits are a must. Curator Andrew Bolton said that the idea came to him as he examined YSL’s iconic Mondrian dress and realized that this Sixties haute couture dress-that-went-viral was mostly stitched by sewing machine, a no-no in the rule-book of the Paris high-fashion syndicate.

Yves Saint Laurent’s hand-worked 1958 trapeze in his first collection at Dior.

Yves Saint Laurent’s hand-worked 1958 trapeze in his first collection at Dior. Five layers of tulle with hand embroidery

It made him ponder the extent to which handwork and machine intersect in the world of high fashion.

Underwritten by Apple, there are no digital iPads or robots on the scene (like the Met’s revolutionary Charles James show) – just classical domes and arches highlighting masterworks of craftsmanship that cry out for the closest of scrutiny. Although it’s fun to waft through the crowds, getting glimpses of dazzling beadwork and dreamy Grecian-pleated chiffon gowns, to join Bolton in his investigation, reading the label copy, wall copy, and close inspection is a must.

Your first glimpse sets the historic context: The stunning Chanel wedding ensemble under the main dome (a created space made from a false floor across the upper level of the usually empty atrium of the Lehman wing) is surrounded by books. Leather-bound volumes of Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts are open to engravings of lacemaking and embroidery.

Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts

Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts

By including these “métiers”, Diderot elevated fine dressmaking skills to the level of respect given to other types of 18th-century engineering.

Bolton chose Diderot’s encyclopedia categories as the sub-sections of the show and gave each métier can-you-believe-what-you’re-seeing treatment. Click here to read more about each métier on the Met’s website.

The pleating section of the show is a great example, beginning by displaying the masterful hand-formed pleats on Grecian gowns designed by Madame Grés and the still-mysterious processes used by Fortuny to clothe boho types in liquid charmeuse pleats at the dawn of the 20th century.

Issey Miyake ready-to-wear 1994 Flying Saucer dress fully extended; synthetic polyester that is machine pleated and stitched

Issey Miyake ready-to-wear 1994 Flying Saucer dress fully extended; synthetic polyester that is machine pleated and stitched

Across the way, you can compare Fortuny’s craftsmanship with machine-stitched and pleated versions, which are no less compelling. Mary McFadden’s pleated dresses were must-haves of the must-be-seen society set in the Seventies and Eighties. Mary’s synthetic pleated fabric was a pull-it-out-of-the-suitcase miracle in a world of jet-set travel and society parties.

And don’t ignore the works in the show by Issey Miyake, who wowed the design world with innovative pleated shapes that twisted and turned into avant-garde dresses and tops. Machine made from synthetic material, Miyake’s creations could fold flat and be popped into action in a nanosecond. His techno-trick was to make an entire, gigantic garment, position the fabric into pleats and run the entire garment through a heat press. Go, Flying Saucer dress!

In every section of the show, Bolton provides something historic (such as the 1870s hand-crocheted wedding gown) bookended by blazingly new creations, such as Iris Van Herpen’s 3-D-printed creations.

Close-up: Fortuny’s hand-pleated, hand-sewn 1920s charmeuse dress; Venetian-beads embroidery and hand-knotted silk trim

Close-up: Fortuny’s hand-pleated, hand-sewn 1920s charmeuse dress; Venetian-beads embroidery and hand-knotted silk trim

Muslins from Charles James reveal classic tailoring techniques by the master engineer, worked and re-worked by hand until perfection was achieved. Miyake pushed the boundaries of modern dressmaking one step further by using lasers to cut polyester monofilament, draping it, and shaping it with metal snaps –creating a dress without using any needles, thread, or scissors.

Laser cutting makes multiple appearances in the show with the work of Comme des Garcons, Iris van Herpen, Thom Brown, and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. However, traditional techniques by historic Parisian ateliers are on view, too – a Chanel embellished by Maison Lemarie with 2,500 fabric camellias that took 90 minutes each to create, Dior’s post-war embroidered floral dresses bursting with foilage, and YSL’s game-changing trapeze dress in his first collection for Dior. This last creation had five layers of tulle embellished with crystals, beads, and sequin clusters by Maison Rébé.

At the press opening, Apple’s designer extraordinaire, Jony Ive, cautioned viewers to remember that technology and craft are not at odds. The notion of care – whether by hand or machine – is intrinsic to everything in the show.

Enjoy Mr. Bolton’s walk-through.