I went to a couple of great exhibits this year before the coronavirus shut the museums. One of them, Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was especially enjoyable.
While I’ve never been a fashionista, I’ve always loved colorful, striking clothing. I grew up in the 70’s with a mother who thought that Leslie Fay was a fashion icon. Oh, dear. This made for some interesting discussions best left to memory. But a lot of people felt like my Mother.
There has always been art clothing, but usually not for the hoi polloi like me and my Mother who were expected to wear sensible “uniforms” and not stand out. That seemed to change in the late 60’s and early 70’s when brighter colors became acceptable, tie dye was all the rage, and the hand-made movement took off. I think that the American art clothing movement was a product of this, and it has definitely left a mark on what we wear today.
Some of my favorite pieces from the exhibit:
There is a saying somewhere that an article of clothing does not qualify as couture unless a dozen nuns went blind making it. So I was amused to learn that nuns taught Mary Ann Schildknecht how to embroider while she was serving a two-year prison sentence in Italy for hashish trafficking. The result is this astounding top and skirt, above.
I first saw this cape and hat by Susanna Lewis in an issue of Ornament Magazine years ago. Ornament is the best magazine if you are interested in art clothing.
Double click on the pictures to get a look at the full sized versions of this headdress and cape by Debra Rappaport. They are made entirely of found objects.
This is just a sampling of the wonderful articles of clothing displayed in the exhibit. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has put together an exhibition book which you can order here. There’s also a real interesting out-of-print book on the Art to Wear movement, Art to Wear by Julie Schafler Dale. You can order a used copy here. Julie Shafler Dale ran a gallery in Manhattan for a number of years that was known for showcasing innovative crafts and new craft mediums (including polymer) before they made their way into the mainstream. The Julie Artisans Gallery is closed now, but you can read about it here. You can read about the Levis Art Denim Contest and see the winning entries here. If you would like more information on Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, click here and here and here.