Dear Fashion, What the hell happened to you? You used to be so charming, and unique and inspiring. Is it the world’s stress that has you all befuddled and awkward? In the fashion capital of the world, you somehow managed to get caught up in obscurity in the most jarring of ways.
Mid-winter is usually a great time to experience the annals of the world’s fashion elite. It is prime-time for the industry to present their collections for the following year while we are still pondering the presentations of springtime that were on the runways a few months ago. We are also coerced to be privy to the styles of the day thanks to the award show season where good and bad fashion choices are put on display by superstars on the red-carpet and dubiously critiqued in the media.
I am far from a Fashionista. Though I always leave the house looking kempt and I do try my hand at a bold fashion statement every once and again, I can’t claim that I am an expert. I once presented a collection of wearable art entitled Status Slut in 2007. It was a satirical statement about the then current state of fashion in America. We were still shedding the remnants of the necessity to end and begin our sentences with “After 9/11” and we were all in shock that this Texan idiot was permitted to buy his way back into office. It was also when Hipsters were this burgeoning subculture and I had spent one night in a dance club where virtually everyone in the joint was wearing stripes or polka-dots. Something strange and wonderful was happening. The best art comes from suffering.
The concept was clear and though I have never been a good seamstress, the show went over better than I expected. I used pounding music from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Make-up, and a variety of skinny, gorgeous girls in their 20s as models. I made the collection mostly out of stretch fabrics and used a lot of unorthodox darting and pleating techniques while utilizing a deconstructed motif. The color scheme was gloomy with grays and black as the base and then I complimented those tones with cool colors: green, purple and navy blue, to represent envy, passion and conformity, respectively.
2007 was one of the best years of my life. Because of the personal turmoil I was experiencing, I was producing some of the best work I have ever made. I received my first grant that year, and that is when Hokum Arts was really starting to take shape.
Fashion was always a tool in my work and I insisted on making my own costumes not only because I couldn’t afford a designer, but because I am so Narcissistic; it is required that I am producing the outcome of every detail of every work that I present on stage.
My dance costumes have a uniform look to them. They are flowy and deconstructed and I always try to throw in some backwards way of doing something, frustrated by my lack of expertise when it comes to sewing (I hate doing anything that I am not good at).
A few years after the Status Slut ordeal, I was getting a little bit better with sewing but far from being able to make my own patterns or cut the right proportions for a simple sheath dress. I was doing my usual online cruising of fashion and I came across a designer I never heard of.
While I am interested in menswear fashion (I think it has something to do with my Y chromosome), women’s clothes are obviously more aesthetically pleasing and since I work mostly with women, it is important for me to stay abreast of more feminine fashion houses rather than dwell on menswear fashion that I couldn’t ever possibly afford or even begin to try and make myself.
I stumbled up the work of Thom Browne, a veritable genius when it comes to menswear. Though his boutiques are filled with accessible, commercial, high-end items, his fashion shows are outlandish and innovative and more like a show than most menswear designers ever attempt to put on during fashion week.
In 2009 I started working on a new piece entitled “Ad libitum” that was inspired by the work of Thom Browne.
I marveled at his brilliant juxtaposition of expert tailoring and whimsical elements. The way he presents his clothes bears the same functions as an auspicious theater play. It reminded me once again that art of all genres don’t have borders between each other and that every movement or renaissance encompasses all media.
It also got me to thinking about the differences in class. Fashion is very popular among the polar opposites of society: the rich and the poor. While somewhere in the middle you will find some fashion slaves, most of the people I have seen (and I am constantly looking) making a statement with their look are well-to-do folks that can afford the top fashion houses, or they are the artists and poor scholars who are fighting it out at the bargain bins in vintage and second-hand shops. Even better, some dabble in making their own clothes.
There is a great divide between who can buy fashion and who must make fashion for themselves. Luckily the less fortunate classes now have the advantage of H&M – but it was this distinction that sparked my interest in exploring these themes through dance theater.
“Ad libitum” is a Latin phrase usually found in sheet music used to describe “at one’s pleasure” – also, shortened to ad lib, it has an obvious usage in theater. The piece is broken into two parts, the first part is predominately inspired by Thom Browne’s fashion aesthetic and I got the idea to use suit jackets in the choreography. I chose a slow, deliberate, syncopated Erik Satie piece to illustrate a dark mood (also exhibited in the lighting choice during the actual performance). The first section represents the lower-ish class and their desire and disgust with having to conform to prescribed societal standards.
The second part is adorned with moody music from one of my favorite modern composers, Daniel Bernard Roumain. I added some artistic striptease (derivative of my work in burlesque and a constant in my repertoire) by having the dancers remove their drab, outer layers and reveal the fashion forward garb underneath. Most of the pieces were designed by me, and again I was paying homage to my signature style replete with my stripes and polka-dots (a long lived phobic when it comes to prints, I adore geometric patterns due to my not so latent control issues).
This latter portion of the work is an alarming contrast to the subtle presentation of the former part – it was important to me that the drastic lighting and music change startled the audience. The dancing is more sporadic and disconnected and the dancers are split into their own space, illustrating the connection and disconnection for each other in the race for individuality. I used ritzy, shiny fabrics to undermine the dowdy, nondescript costumes in the first half.
The end of the piece is marked by an apparent exhaustion of the characters who are eventually so wrapped up in themselves and their desire to become something new and different that it is the cause of their social demise.
So recently I was doing my bi-yearly fashion updating and I realized – this is all shit.
To my chagrin, I noticed that the runways for the collections of ew York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2012/13 were riddled with bloated silhouettes, a plethora of embellishments, and inordinate amount of the “color” gold, cheap looking fabrics, and the worst sin of all: distasteful combinations of prints. As aforementioned, I admit that I am scared of prints. I know girls love prints and I forgive them (sometimes) for wearing anything that makes them look like a flower patch or a feline cartoon character (that reminds me, I saw an inordinate amount of faux-fur). If I could sum up what I saw, it looked like someone went into their grandma’s attic and took out all the seam allowances and sewed all the different parts of different clothes together.
All the worst elements of the 70s returned, and I love 70s inspired fashion, i.e. free flowing, slut cut dresses and high-waisted bell-bottom pants, hot pants, jump suits, etc. There is no need to revamp the tunic! The spectacular (in a bad way) silhouettes were the most disturbing to me. I love an early Balenciaga silhouette that is sleek and hides the best parts of a woman’s body in the best way, creating a sense of sensual mystery – but some of the tortured looks are simply botched attempts at innovation. I still have yet to meet a woman that wants to look fat when she is wearing a $2,000 wool jacket (or pants, or shirt or dress or anything!). There is no need to fold a piece of fabric in the same shape as if you were using toilet paper and then tack it onto the front of the dress. And don’t get me started on the gaudy layering!
Nothing was more shocking (in the worst way) than to see the cultural misfire that was Marc Jacobs. While I am a big fan of over-sized knit scarves, the entire collection and atmosphere made the models look like Christmas ornaments. Here, design becomes a caricature of itself and fashion is totally lost in the art of it all. Yes. there are so many clean, spectacular pieces that look good on their own, but the collection as a whole is so jarring to look at you become more sympathetic to the rare gems rather than urged to appreciate their beauty. I will say though that the lower end, Marc by Marc Jacobs, did a phenomenal job showing a more expertly fashion forward line by drawing on a very modern aesthetic inspired by historical elements, embracing the whole Hipster regime through a cohesive military theme.
Almost as a parody, Diane von Furstenburg somehow managed to pull off all of these trends in a likable but not too generic way. She combined sleek lines with a smoother bloated silhouette, and even made some almost mistakes with the print mix-matching and the obnoxious embellishments. I even like the schizophrenic prints. But the whole collection was wearable, but not inspiring to me as an artist. Whatever happened to art?
Out of all the things I left behind in America, I miss my clothes a lot. I wear my brain on my sleeve and it has always been an important to me to present art in the clothes that I wear. Now that I am down to a very minimal wardrobe, it is a great challenge to pull together looks that make me feel good about myself and allow me to have something unique to say in what I think is one of the most fashionable cities in the world where the artist reigns supreme because art is a daily part of life in Berlin and no one is elite because here, people are not defined so much by class – much of its denizens strive to stay on the same playing field.