Sunday, December 25, 2016


Valerie says:  Recently, while Jean was working much too hard and I was nursing a broken wrist (see Exhibit A, above, a cast swaddled in a cartoon stocking), I had the opportunity to attend the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current treasure of a costume show, Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion.  By now the world is accustomed to one blockbuster after another at the Met's Costume Institute - starting several years ago with the Alexander McQueen retrospective, followed by the Punk show, the China show, and this year by the Manus ex Machina exhibition.  Masterworks, by contrast, is a wonderful small show.  Even at a leisurely pace, the whole thing can probably be savored in an hour or less.  But going to see Masterworks is like taking an amphetamine - it's a powerful punch packed into a tiny package and sends the mind racing in new directions.

Andrew Bolton, Head Curator of the Costume Institute (above, in fashionably tight short trousers and skinny tie, and repeated in someone's cell phone), explained that the Institute had revised its collection strategy, and instead of aiming for an "encyclopedic" collection covering everything, the Museum would instead purchase "iconic" pieces embodying "costume as a living art".  The current show was conceived as an opportunity to showcase acquisitions of the past 10 years.  It covers over 200 years of the best of fashion, although most of the works on display are from the 20th century and represent a Who's Who of the best known, most respected, most innovative designers, from Worth at the close of the 19th century to Iris van Herpen at the beginning of the 21st.  A number of these were donated by the designers in honor of Harold Koda, who retired as Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute in January of this year.

It would be nice if I could show you everything, but I'm just going to show you my favorites and leave you begging for more*.

In the opening photo, I'm standing in front of two bustiers, the one on the left by Yohji Yamamoto; the one on the right by Issey Miyake.  They look small because I'm several feet away from them, but they are big, bold, and irresistible.  Many of you have seen the molded resin Miyake bustier on Grace Jones.  The Yohji bustier has rows of external ribs that rise provocatively at the breast, and hug the body sensuously at the torso.  A few of those ribs are clearly visible in the photo.

The show itself opens with this dress by Viktor & Rolf.

It's the perfect dress to set the tone for the rest of the show, calling into question what you see, what you think you see, and the very nature of the dressmaker's art.  While based on a traditional dress from a conservative period, the missing center section not only makes the dress new, it adds a sense of humor, and begs the question how did they do that?!

This 1947 evening dress, designed by Adrian, dressmaker to the Hollywood stars, features a surrealist motif designed by Salvador Dali.

I fell in love with this huge-shouldered jacket by Alexander McQueen.  The accompanying label notes that the birds were hand-painted onto the fabric.  The white dots you see are reflections of the lights in the glass.

In this dress, Sarah Burton, who succeeded Alexander McQueen following his untimely death, continues his obsession for extravagance using what appear to be countless butterfly wings as the dress's primary fabric.

In fact, however, the label reads that the "hundreds of trompe l'oeil wings that veneer the textile ground are composed of meticulously cut, dyed and painted feathers, applied by hand..."  Below, a detail shot.

You could be forgiven for thinking the black and white sheath below was a Charles James dress.   It has the same body-hugging hourglass figure of a Charles James, and the same wonderful pooling of fabric at the feet.  But no, this is Azzedine Alaia who, it turns out, was a James admirer.  A careful look at the dress reveals that the dress is composed of rows of sumptuous chenille interspersed with flat knit.

For most of us, most of the time, there is an unwritten understanding that fashion must be practical.  It mustn't weigh more than the wearer can support; it mustn't be too large to enter a doorway; it must be cleanable; it mustn't impede movement...  And yet someone is always breaking one of those rules.  Here is Yamamoto's wood laminate dress with hinges.  The skeptic in me asks how would you sit in this dress?  how could you seduce, or be seduced, in this dress?  But the gadfly in me loves the cubist look of the wood panels and the use of hinges to replace folds.  One could almost imagine it among the costumes of Russian revolutionary theater, worn by someone too busy to be seated or comfortable.

Another Japanese designer who constantly tests the limits of definitions of dress is Rei Kawakubo.  Because this marvelous abstract creation in wool-nylon flannel, patent leather, polyester georgette and cotton lawn is difficult to comprehend on the headless mannequin, scroll down to see how it looked on the model who wore it on the catwalk.


John Galliano for Maison Margiela did a marvelous coatdress which combined the old fashioned concepts of drama and romance with very new material.  The coat, made of "artisanal pale purple polyester warp knit" has the airy light foamy look of neoprene, and is set off with the obi-like "dark blue-purple cotton plain weave" structure in the back.  Next to it, unseen here, is a similar Balenciaga creation, juxtaposed so the viewer can compare the two designers' visions.

Two cheeky dresses by Hussein Chalayan stand side by side.  Right, his airmail dress, made of Tyvek and, as visible from the photograph, foldable into a small envelope when not in use.  Originally conceived when Chalayan was still a student at Central St. Martins, the dress was once available at the Victoria and Albert for £170.  At left, a design made for the resurrected House of Vionnet.

This close-up of the dress shows that Chalayan based the design on drafting paper, even incorporating cutting lines for a pattern into the dress.  Note that the small Xs printed on the dress have been embroidered over, as a further dressmaker's inside joke, along the thigh.

Thom Browne contributed two suits which, from a distance, appear to be printed fabric, but are in fact painstakingly cut and pieced together.

The exhibition includes an intriguing piece by Iris van Herpen in "black cotton tulle and silk satin, embroidered with strips of black PVC".  Unfortunately shown on a headless, torso-less mannequin, it can be a bit difficult to comprehend, so below is a photo by Annie Leibovitz for, which shows off  Iris's design to full advantage.

Those who know us best will demand to know why we haven't included any hats.  In keeping with the iconic theme, the show includes this blockbuster hat by Philip Treacy.  For best effect, it's best just to repeat the narrative on the label: "Paphiopedilum Philipinense Orchid Hat."  ... Glazed white silk crepe printed with purple pigment and green synthetic-spandex knit printed with green and brown pigment.  Gift of Philip Treacy and Isabella Blow, in honor of Harold Koda.

The traditional fashion show ends with a bridal dress, and so will this post.  But the dress is by Jean-Paul Gaultier, so there is very little traditional about the dress itself, except perhaps its color.  One of the elements of the skirt of the dress is chain mail, but all eyes are on the headdress, so voluminous and so riveting that one could almost argue it is the central piece and the gown is merely the accessory.   According to the label, it is made of "white nylon mesh with silver nylon organza ribbon, ivory kidskin and white steel boning".

The Masterworks show is up until February 5.  I can't emphasize enough how much what a great show this is.  Put it on your schedule!!!

By more, I mean works by Poiret, Chanel, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Dior, Charles James, Geoffrey Beene, Zandra Rhodes, Yves St. Laurent, Gianni Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Dolce & Gabbana, and anonymous designers to the aristocracy from as early as the 1700s.  A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

(Valerie's jacket by Suzi Click.  In addition to creatively preserving hand woven ethnographic textile fragments, it has the important added plus of very wide sleeves that a bulky cast can fit through.)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

TRIFECTA: Sue Kreitzman, Milliners' Guild Show at the Fire Museum and Rooftop Cocktails!

We have some serious catching up to do. It has been weeks since we've blogged about what we've been up to. (For the record, we have been posting to Instagram, because, well, it's more instant.)  We have an amazing array of fun stuff in the queue. First up? A tale about the day we took the amazing Sue Kreitzman to the New York City Fire Museum on Spring Street to see a hat exhibition sponsored by the New York Milliners' Guild and to Greenwich Avenue to have cocktails and chew the fat before she headed back to Jolly Olde you know where...  Above is a shot of us at Azul, the Cuban bar atop Hotel Hugo in Soho after the hat show.  What's not to love? Spending quality time with our favorite ex-pat looking at hats in a historic setting, followed by hanging out on a rooftop while sipping cocktails overlooking Soho on an Indian Summer afternoon. Heavenly!

We ran into this young woman and her partner and little their dog on the sidewalk down the street from the New York City Fire Museum when they admired out outfits.

We had no idea what to expect when we received the New York Milliners' Guild's invitation to a show of headwear inspired by fire and fire fighters at the New York Fire Museum on Spring Street.  We couldn't exclude any of the pieces in the shows and have included all of them here. The wide range of styles and materials was amazing.  The hat below, titled Valkyrie, by Ellen Christine Couture, is a flame-colored chiffon-like creation.

Kathy Anderson's black and red creation is Hot Fire Woman from Hats by Kat and Accessories Too.

Top That Fire by Sarah Sokol Millinery incorporates an embroidered patch with a fireman's hat and tools, brass chain trim on the brim and black leather and brass buckle.

The Shield by Wanda J. Chambers Once Upon a Hat resembles a stained glass window.

Skulls appear on several of the hats, but none so significantly as on this hat titled The Faithful Companion. Signage for this hat reads: Monika Stebbins, Monika Fine Millinery, Hats by Kat and Accessories Too.

How fabulous is this multi-level feathered fuchsia Firecracker by Linda Pagan of The Hat Shop?

On the main floor of the museum is a monument to Herman, one of the fire horses that pulled the ancient hand-pumper fire trucks through the streets of old New York. Sue posed next to the statue which we noticed was also wearing a hat!  This photo does the most justice to Sue's colorful outfit.  No shrinking violet, she is hard to miss with her large beaded neckpiece, beautiful purple jacket and matching bag, signature big red spectacles and bright patent Fit Flops.  What is a source of amazement is how approachable she is to passersby -- of any and every age -- despite (or because of?) her elaborate dress.  Her good humor and positive attitude are infectious.

Linda Ashton's Silver on Midnight hat mimics the shape of a fireman's helmet.

Jacqueline Lamont LLC's bright red Safety Rules hat features a Husky safety light mounted on the brim.

Catherine by Michael McCant of McCants Originals introduces a purple base into a mix of red and black feathers.

Fire Engine Red by Amanda John Millinery features a felted red fire engine on the front of a black leather brimmed cap.

Passion by Louis Quinones LAQ Chapelier  is a deep red velvet and lace saucer shaped confection.

Dragon Fighter by Dina Pisani for Cha Cha's House of Ill Repute affixes a tiny skull head on butterfly wings at the front of this crimson creation.

Barbara Volker Millinery incorporates a red, white and blue feather on the silver and gold decoration atop the black crown of its Ode to the Bravest.

Penny Klein Millinery's Phoenix is aptly named for the mythological bird that rises from its own ashes.

Evetta Petty's Harlem's Heaven Hats' entry is this stylish red Leather Topper.

Known for Kentucky Derby hats, Polly Singer Couture contributed the glamorous Gilded Flames to the show.

In an ode to classical literature and sculpture, the helmet shaped piece from Lisa Shaub Fine Millinery is called For Palas Athena.

Fire Dragon by Sally Caswell Millinery combines sequins, netting and feathers.

The Curl by Jennifer Hoertz Millinery is a minimalist's take on the exhibit's theme.

Gemini, a red and black bi-color felted wool hat ,is by Lisa McFadden Millinery.

On Fire! is the frothy, elaborate black and red feather and netting fascinator by Mary Ann Smith of The Tipsy Topper.

Smolder by Judith Solodkin of Solo Impressions, Inc, is encased in what looks like melted plastic.

Anne DePasquale's Flame is a dramatic pinkish red felted wool hat accented with a bright red and black curled feather.

Controlled Burn by Conney Borda of Eggcup Designs looks anything but controlled. Black and red feathers wildy spring like flames from its net base.

When we finished viewing the show (actually, when they threw us out at closing time), we walked west on Spring Street and took a left on Greenwich Avenue to the Hotel Hugo. Once inside, we took the elevator to the rooftop enclosed library-like bar which looks like a wonderful spot in cold and inclement weather.  We then had to walk up 1 1/2 flights to the rooftop bar. (Note to friends with scooters, wheelchairs, walkers and canes: you cannot get to the actual rooftop area without taking the stairs.  There is no elevator.)  Once there, we checked out the views and seating facing west and the river and were approached by a number of young women for photos.  After all the ladies finished, this group of gents approached for equal treatment.  In the spirit of "turn about is fair play", the ladies took their photo with us.

Because the setting sun was right in our eyes, we moved to the east side and settled into very comfortable sofas to enjoy delicious frozen cocktails and Cuban appetizers.

Daniel Bernstein was among two couples seated in adjacent tables and when he asked to take a photo of us, we insisted that the picture be a photo of him with us. Needless to say, we didn't have to ask him twice. If this is a new trend, we say "bring it on". Getting and being older is so much fun, why not spread it around?

Despite an iffy weather forecast for rain, we had sun for most of our outing. Luckily, the clouds didn't start to roll in until the evening was drawing nigh, which are visible in our parting shot of the Freedom Tower. Sue headed back to London very shortly after this get-together and we anxiously await her return.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Roz Chast Show at Museum of City of New York

We recently went to see cartoonist Roz Chast's Cartoon Memoirs show at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition of almost 200 works, some never published, was originally organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  A co-presentation of the Museum of the City of New York and the Norman Rockwell Museum, the show highlights the artist and cartoonist's keen eye for the absurdities of New York City and suburban daily life.

Born in Brooklyn in 1954 (read: Woman of a Certain Age), Ms. Chast has become one of the foremost comic voices of the New Yorker magazine, producing more than 1,200 published cartoons in that magazine, children's books, collaborations with other authors and her award winning 2014 visual memoir "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant." Her approach is distinctive, sometimes bordering on a female version of an early anxiety-ridden Woody Allen persona: eccentric, stressed out, plagued by self-doubt and often apparently in dire need of psychiatric help. Her droll chronicles of the follies of everyday life, like the motley crew on the subway below, have now entertained two generations, most often in The New Yorker magazine.  (To see a high speed video of the artist making this life size drawing on the wall outside the exhibition, click here.)

(Chast puts us in mind of Maira Kalman, another Jewish female artist known for her ability to imbue her work with her own signature quirkiness and humor, and currently on New Yorkers' radar screens. Kalman and Chast are both plowing some of the same ground, from somewhat similar vantage points. Unlike many cartoonists who never personally appear in their own work, both figure prominently in many of their stories. When we went to the Jewish Museum last year, we got a chuckle when we discovered Maira Kalman's Jewish Mother Gum for sale in the museum shop. Under the legend is an illustration of a New York Jewish Mother, complete with beret and glasses.  On the front of the box is the statement "Fruit - Shmoot" and on the back is "8 pieces no less." One side of the box says "Go. Rot your teeth." and the other says "Again with the gum?" What more can we say? Classic Maira Kalman artwork and humor in the palm of your hand.)

Roz's cartoons have kept pace with her life over the past four decades. Her early work often traced her life as the dutiful but beleaguered daughter of a besieged mom and dad.

Roz moved on in life and in cartoons to her role as a suburban mother herself when she and her family moved out of the city, away from her parents. Still later, she returned to tackle the serious side of life head-on in her cartoons, fearlessly depicting her parents' aging and inevitable descent into disease, dementia and death.

It is a testament to her unwaivering voice that she didn't ignore or shy away from the harsh realities of life, but rather viewed them through her unique cartoonist's lens.

In the wonderfully witty What I Hate from A to Z (2001),

the caption to "The Undertow" illustrates her twisted (yet totally relatable) sensibilities: "Beware -- even in ankle-deep water, a little tug could be the ocean 'pulling you to your watery grave.'"  The people in the backgrounds of her illustrations are often as interesting as the main character.

From the same series, in X-Rays, we get to see the technical side of the artist.  If you look closely, where she has written Need I say more? you can see a little pentimento - where something went wrong and the artist carefully covered her tracks by overlaying a small piece of paper carefully cut to the right size.  Did she get distracted, and write Need I say mre?  Was it a different phrase entirely, that she changed her mind about?  Did she accidentally smear the lettering?  These pentimenti appear here and there throughout the show, including in some of the originals of cartoons for the New Yorker (where the transitional lines are completely invisible in the final published product).

Although Chast is known for her cartoons, the exhibition shows her many other talents as well.  Below is a tender and sensitive drawing of Chast's mother near death.

We had no idea that Chast also designs and hooks rugs.  Below is one from the exhibition.  For more on Roz Chast and her hooked rugs, click here.

Chast has also turns her hand to decorating pysanky  (Ukrainian painted eggs) in her traditional style.  The Paris Review wrote this article on a gallery exhibition  of Chast's eggs.

Chast's drawings often feature forlorn figures on a sofa in front of old wallpaper, so the volume of hilarity at the exhibition was raised by the presence of an actual sofa, and a blow up of one of the artist's wallpapered walls, complete with Chastian nuggets.  It proved to be an extremely popular feature of the show, and we monitored it closely for our chance to memorialize ourselves.  We were finally able to snag seats on the sofa, and with childlike enthusiasm became part of the living cartoon.  While the innocent fellow visitor on the left is seated under the speech bubble whining "Can't we talk about something more pleasant?", and Valerie sits under the thought bubble harrumphing with a hint of sarcasm "Everything is my fault," Jean is smugly perched under the punch line thought bubble: "Everything IS your fault."

Why is it that Jean gets such an inordinate kick out of this? Is it because life is imitating art? Hmmm.

(Valerie waves this away.  Mere detail, she says.  For the best visual effect, of course the red outfit goes in the center, balancing the two black outfits.  One must sacrifice for one's art.)

Go see the show before it closes on October 16th!  Go sit on the sofa, and get your picture taken with someone you love!  (Choose your spot carefully.)