I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but most of you would know that I am neither a New Yorker nor a fashion expert. While I enjoy style and design and I’m somewhat awed by the city, it’s clear to any observer that I’m native to neither. But, there’s something about Bill Cunningham that makes me feel comfortable with both. He lives and roams in the intimidating worlds of fashion and Manhattan, but manages to do so in an unpretentious way.
This weekend I re-watched the feature-length documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which profiles this prolific photographer and wise fashion observer and, once again, this eighty-something gentleman captured all my heart. Sometimes, as a fashion outsider, I imagine that NY style begins and ends on the runway. Bill Cunningham is a firm believer that this notion is not true. “The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been, always will be,” he assures us. His “On the Street,” column in the New York Times is a collage of on-trend people, items, movements, and real-time style progressions. In the film, Harold Koda, Curator of the Costume Institute/Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains that Bill attempts to “tease out trends in terms of the reality of how people dress.” Cunningham himself demurs, “I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to ME.”
I’m going to admit something that might seem a little pedestrian to some of you, perhaps a little familiar to others: I watch a lot of television, all kinds. I’m simultaneously a television snob and a consumer of frivolous content. I’m not sure how I rationalize all of that, but to quote Whitman in a post about popular culture: I am large, I contain multitudes.
So, as a consumer of all of this entertainment content, I include among my weekly dvr selections a show called Project Runway. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you have heard of or watched this reality-based competition. If so, you may be aware that each season, the contestants are given the challenge of designing for “real women,” that is, women who are not models and have normal, everyday shapes and sizes. And, without fail, every season there is a designer who throws an absolute tantrum about how difficult this challenge is, about how this isn’t what they “do” as a designer.
I know that what happens on television might not be the most accurate representation of reality, how designers design in the privacy of their studios, or how garments travel from paper to product. But, the fact that this attitude continues to present itself causes me to ask: whom do designers think that they are designing for, if not real people?
“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.
If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?
SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY
Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.
It’s no secret that there seems to be a disconnect between the worlds of fashion and craft. The terms, themselves, can be a bit polarizing despite their incredible commonality.
Alabama Chanin is no stranger to straddling that line between the two; to us, craft and fashion definitely go hand-in-hand. On a recent weekend, I spent some time catching up on a pile of magazines and some of the images I found make me think that the larger fashion world is beginning to see the commonalities, too.
Keep an eye out as you peruse your favorite fashion publications. You might be surprised at what you find. The images above from the September issues of W and Vogue (yes, it sometimes takes us a while to get through them) made us smile; craft and fashion, moving together at last.
P.S.: For those of you who joined us or followed online during MAKESHIFT: SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY, a series of events and talks during NY Design Week, you probably know how strongly we feel about bridging the gap between DIY, design, and high-fashion. We hope that our efforts may be paying off. While we can never know for certain what is sparking this monumental shift in philosophy, I can’t help but feel that all of us are helping to pave the way. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
In a world of mass-production and over-harvested resources, I find it a delight and a luxury to come across a responsibly crafted product, especially around the holiday season. Unsurprisingly, living, producing, and creating sustainably has become a skillful artistry, and sustainable craftsmanship and process is quickly on its way to being the ultimate in luxury production.
It has been extremely encouraging for me to see the Slow Design movement taking root around us. One may see such artistry in the culinary world, as so many chefs joyfully curate the finest, locally raised ingredients with which to design. From olives in Georgia, to Alabama milk, I find hope and inspiration all around me.
And it truly is a luxury, one that I hope may become more common than not, that each of us will know the source and quality of their food. The openness regarding the source and quality of sustainable dining holds both the chef and the diner accountable, allowing both parties to take pride in their choices.
We often hear that you have to see an Alabama Chanin garment in person to really appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship that goes into every piece. We sincerely believe that our upcoming website is the next best thing.
As our brand continues to grow, and our interests and projects become more diverse, we rely more and more on AlabamaChanin.com as a way to showcase our endeavors, share our experiences, and interact with a community that is constantly expanding.
This is a place to share our life at the Factory, or at least a sampling of it: Weekend workshops, DIY craft, custom couture garments, cotton farming, upcycling developments, Thursday potlucks, visiting artists, and the list goes on. We wanted a site that would reflect all of the things that we are – and all of the things that you, our customers, are. We wanted a meeting place that is both welcoming and engaging and, of course, easy to use, because we know first-hand that when you have so much going on in one place, things can be a little difficult to navigate.
There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.
Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.
Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:
“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”
Alabama Chanin, Florence, Alabama, in collaboration with Drew Robinson, Jim ‘N Nick’s, Birmingham, Alabama
64 yards 100% organic cotton jersey, colors white and nude
47 spools Button Craft thread
112 yards embroidery floss
1 pound white glass beads
9 garment patterns
4 stencil designs
1 quart textile paint
24 talented embroidery artisans
Embroidery scissors, both large and small
8 sticks hickory
Construct garments by combining the first 10 ingredients, adding love and care. Once constructed with love and care, smoke embroidered dresses with hickory. This is the wood most commonly used for barbecue in our part of Alabama because it is the most plentiful. As luck would have it, burned hickory produces a subtle flavor and color in pork and dresses, respectively.
It made sense to us to use the same wood to smoke our homegrown garments (well, as much sense as it could make to smoke a dress, anyway). Like a pig, dresses require a low temperature and lots of finesse.
Once you get the fire going, smoke your dresses at a temperature close to 170 degrees for about 18 hours.
Serves the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, 2012.
Our BBQed dresses have been carefully hung along side the stunning photographs of Landon Nordeman and the smell of barbeque fills the room. We are en route to a weekend of storytelling and out-of-this-world food (and spirits).
Join us tonight in Oxford, Mississippi, for Punch, Pictures, and ‘Cue Couture, as part of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s 15th Annual Symposium, Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce.
13 South 14th Street, Oxford, Mississippi 38655
October 18th from 4:00pm – 6:00pm
(The reception is free and open to the public and will feature the cocktail stylings of Greg Best from Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta, Georgia.)
Show runs through November 2, 2012 from 9:00am – 5:00pm each day.
Thank you to the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Melissa Hall, and John T. Edge for the inspiration and hard work that helped make this exhibition possible.
1006 Van Buren Avenue
Thursday, October 18th: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Friday, October 19th - 20th: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday, October 20th - 20th: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Sunday, October 21st: 9:00am – 2:00pm
For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or Amelia Presents: +1.901.355.0311.