When I was in high school in New York City in the ‘70s, it was de rigueur for girls to clothe themselves from local thrift shops. It was not unusual to see your friends in Lanvin or Schiaparelli working a Bunsen burner in bio class. That was before Upper East Side ladies donated to the Met, and before the Costume Institute was established and before there was a sizable tax benefit to giving away your vintage Valentino. As a societal force, sustainability was just getting a bit of traction and it was a small circle of worrywarts who pondered, “what’s going to happen to all this stuff in 59 years?”
The Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC) has mounted a thought-provoking exhibition entitled, “Unusual Threads: Stitching Together the Future of Fashion,” that centers on the haute couture fashion industry’s need to reinvent itself season after season with the dual purpose of producing a creative look for the fashion house along with the trend potential to drive a huge economy. The fashion industry employs more than 60 million people globally and generates $2.5 trillion annually.
Anna-Maria Hand, the curator of the exhibition, and formerly with the Met Costume Institute, has pulled together more than 60 pieces ranging from dresses, accessories, jewelry and statement installations that address multiple issues: overproduction, overconsumption, unfair labor practices, recycling, re purposing natural versus synthetic fibers and somewhere in there, the primacy of design.
With close to 20 artists represented in the exhibition, there is a broad exploration into diversity of materials — from organic fibers to junkyard metal finds. The clothing is displayed on life-size mannequins and viewers weave through the exhibition as they might encounter passersby on a city street — minus the over the shoulder second glance and whisper to your friend, “Did you see that?”
New York artist Terry Singh brings an exciting cultural dimension to high end men’s wear. His long silky skirts have a sensual drape as they flow around the legs and reiterate the fluidity between men’s wear and women’s wear today. Mr. Singh was inspired by visits to India where he admired both the comfort and the soft wearability of the dhoti. Upon his return, he wanted to create designs that embraced that freedom of movement, but he noted that a dhoti may not totally work for the streets or subways of New York City. The inspiration led to the styling of skirts in elegant post-production remains from exclusive Italian and French fabrics that fit perfectly into the experimental open arms of the city’s trendsetters and neo subversives.