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August 30 2014

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7 posts tagged "FIT"

Stephen Burrows Reflects on the Past and Present

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Stephen Burrows

This weekend, the Savannah College of Art and Design honored Stephen Burrows with the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award. His dresses, a huge hit in the 1970s, were able to perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the time: Technicolor jersey designed to dance the night away. We sat down with Burrows to discuss his pivotal appearance in 1973′s now iconic Battle of Versailles, the importance of business savvy, and how he believes that Gianni Versace copied his idea for metal mesh.

You studied at FIT. What was it like there in the 1960s?
It was exciting! I learned a lot there, I met some friends who became part of our group and we went into business together. Everyone would wear my clothes, and we would all go out together, and that’s how we all got recognized.

What is the most important thing you learned in fashion school?
I wish I had been more interested in the business part of it, but they didn’t really teach that at the time. I went into fashion school not really knowing anything about fabrics, the grains, patternmaking, but I learned all of that during my time there. I learned that I prefer to drape. Some people who are better patternmakers can look at a garment and see its flat parts—I always preferred to drape; I find it very relaxing.

Did you have any idea how significant the Versailles show in 1973 would become?
At the time it wasn’t significant to anyone except us. And it was just another benefit! It wasn’t supposed to be this battle they call it now. It just turned into that because the French were just so tacky. We didn’t even have scenery—we had brought some, but we couldn’t use it. It was too small—they measured it in inches instead of meters—so we had to get rid of it! Our stage ended up being bare, which looked incredibly modern. And our show, all five of us lasted half an hour. And the French show lasted for two hours! They had sleighs and reindeer, all these props, and it was just too long. And then we came on, and in half an hour we turned it out, and the crowd was screaming! They threw their programs in the air and were so amazed. But I did meet Saint Laurent that day, and he told me I make beautiful clothes, so I sort of knew that was an iconic moment for me.

Stephen Burrows

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing young designers today?
Finding funding is really hard, especially for minorities. It’s so different today than it was back then. You need so much more money to do anything today, and it’s all about branding. Back then, if you had $50,000, you could start a business. Now today, you need probably $5 million and that maybe lasts a year.

What would you consider your single greatest achievement?
The lettuce edge. It came from a mistake that became this big thing. We were making something, and I stretched the fabric by accident. It’s about pulling the fabric as you’re sewing them, and that became a trademark of mine. And chain mail—I was the first one to do it, before [Gianni] Versace did it. Of course, he saw it in a show we did in Japan called The Best Six, and the next season he happened to have chain mail in his collection.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had been more business inclined. And that’s because I hated math—I barely made it out of high school because of math. To me, 2 and 2 is 5, and that’s why I like knits, but for accounting, that doesn’t really work.

Are there any young designers you find particularly exciting right now?
I love Gareth Pugh, when it’s not too costumey. That’s the problem with fashion today, it’s too costumey. Where on earth are you going? In this outfit that costs $9 million! Where are you going!

And are there any other qualms you have with fashion at the moment?
Well, another problem I have is that girls don’t really know how to walk in trains. The train ends up in between their legs, and they’re kicking it in front of them instead of the train being in back where it belongs. They don’t know quite how to kick the train so it follows them instead of coming up between their legs. If you’re going to wear a dress, you need to learn how to carry it.

What advice would you offer young designers?
Learn about the financial side of fashion. That will keep you alive with a healthy business. You need to mix the commercial with what you do. Many young designers fight against that, but that’s what you need to make a healthy business—to learn how to blend the two together.

Photo: Courtesy of SCAD 

Alexa Chung, Calvin Klein, and FIT Salute the Future of Fashion

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FIT Future of Fashion 2014

Last night’s Future of Fashion Show at the Fashion Institute of Technology was as good an indicator as any that comfort is still women’s top priority. This year’s graduating fashion design students opted for more loopy knits, boxy sweatshirts, and spongy neoprene coats than we could count, while also experimenting with 3-D printing, hand knits, and luxe fur. It Brit and style icon Alexa Chung was tapped to host the event, which was sponsored by Calvin Klein Inc. and the Calvin Klein Family Foundation. An FIT alum, Klein recently gifted $2 million to the program.

The show included approximately eighty-five looks and was live-streamed to FIT campuses all over the world. A front row packed with designers and industry leaders likely inspired a few butterflies backstage— Klein, Francisco Costa, Rebecca Minkoff, and Anya Ziourova were all in attendance.

“I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know it would be that good,” Chung told Style.com after the show. “I thought Sarah Conlon’s silvery-gold pleated skirt [above, left] was brilliant.” She wasn’t the only fan. Minkoff selected Conlon as her Critic Award winner in sportswear. Another standout look was Grace Cox’s neon-pink sweater coat, which featured a thick, intricate weave and frayed edges. It earned Cox the Best Use of Color Award by Siempre Mujer‘s editor in chief, Maria Cristina Marrero. A slew of ethereal lingerie pieces also drew praise from the crowd. Danielle Ortiz won the Critic Award in intimate apparel for her sheer, vintage-inspired bodysuit crafted from creamy lace and blue satin. As for the cutest moment of the night? The parade of kids who stepped out for the children’s wear category, red balloons in hand. Their miniature fur coats, doll-like dresses, and fringed vests looked like they were plucked from our fall wish list.

As an ambassador to the British Fashion Council, Chung is used to spotting young talent on her home turf, citing Emilia Wickstead as a new favorite. “I work with the BFC to sort of champion young London designers, and this was an amazing opportunity to do that in New York City. I didn’t know that anyone knew who I was here, which is nice,” she joked. “I thought it was wonderful. I was incredibly impressed.”

Photo: Paul Porter/BFAnyc.com

FIT’s Foot Fetish

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What is it about women and shoes? According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT and the author of Shoes: A Lexicon of Style (among many other fashion books), the fixation dates back to Cinderella and her glass slippers. But that doesn’t necessarily explain women’s willingness to defy death, gravity, and blisters with the super-stacked platforms and needle-thin spikes of modern day. Shoe Obsession, The Museum at FIT’s upcoming exhibition (which, running from February 8 through April 13, was curated by Dr. Steele, Colleen Hill, and Fred Dennis), explores the female shoe fetish via some of the most iconic, outrageous, and exceptional styles that have come out this century.

Including shoes from established houses (Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle stilettos, Roger Vivier’s feather Eyelash pumps, Prada’s flame shoes, and Chanel’s gun heels), up-and-coming talents (Nicholas Kirkwood’s graffitied Keith Haring platforms, Charlotte Olympia’s Kiss Me Dolores pumps), and experimental designers (Masaya Kushino’s sculptural human hair, Cyprus wood, and lace platforms; Noritaka Tatehana’s eighteen-inch ballerina shoes), Shoe Obsession presents every type of high heel you can imagine—and several that you can’t. Here, Dr. Steele talks to Style.com about the fascination with extravagant shoes, the evolution of contemporary footwear, and the upcoming exhibition.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are so many women obsessed with shoes?

Well, I think there are a couple of layers. First off, shoes are an intimate extension of the physical body. And they seem to say a lot about our personality, our sexual attitudes, and our social status. And high heels in particular seem to be the focus of a lot of our thoughts about gender, sexuality, eroticism, and femininity. I think there’s definitely an element of sexual fetishism involved in men’s fascination with women’s high-heel shoes. But for women, I think it’s not fetishism so much as it is an obsession with fashion and with shoes as the ultimate sartorial symbol of erotic femininity.

Have women always been obsessed with shoes, or was there a point in fashion history when the infatuation really took off?

It goes way back to Cinderella. Shoes have played an important role in cultural thought for a long time. In Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, a film from the sixties about French fashion, there’s a wonderful scene when a TV reporter is interviewing some pompous French sociology professor who says that the Cinderella story is all about the importance of tiny feet and beautiful shoes. Then he says, “So there you are: fetishism, mutilation, pain. Fashion in a nutshell.” [Laughs] But I do think that our show is unique, because we’re not just looking at the social and psychosexual reasons why we all love shoes. We’re focusing on the twenty-first century and calling attention to the fact that in the last twelve years or so, after the end of Sex and the City, the obsession with high-end designer shoes has spread from something that only a few people were really obsessed with to being something that everybody’s obsessed with.

Why have heels risen to such hilariously high heights in the past few decades? And what dictates heel height?

I think the key element there is the acceptance of hypersexual shoe design as part of fashion, as opposed to just a corner of the pornographic industry. Before he died, Helmut Newton said in an interview that in the seventies, you had to go to fetish and porn stores to get the kind of shoes he wanted for his fashion photographs. But by the early nineties, he could go to any high fashion designer—Chanel, Dior, they were all doing fetish-y shoes. So that’s one thing, which I think is crucial to the recent growth of heels. Another is the popularity of platforms on shoes. If you’ve got a two-inch platform, automatically your heel can go from three to five inches, or from four to six, or whatever you want.

What makes women willing to shell out so much money for a pair of shoes that they may or may not be able to walk in?

Part of it is that shoe shopping is probably the highest form of fashion shopping. It’s the most pleasurable. I mean, who doesn’t look good in a pair of beautiful shoes? And compare it with something like bathing-suit shopping, which is the nadir of horror. Also, you can get a lot more fashion bang for your buck with a pair of shoes. You know, it might be a thousand dollars, but if you’re going to buy a jacket or a dress by that same or a comparable designer, you’d be talking three, four thousand dollars or up. And right now, people are, in a way, dressing in more of a uniform. For instance, many people just wear a well-cut pair of jeans and a great black jacket. But with shoes, they can play and transform themselves—they can change the style image that they’re creating. Continue Reading “FIT’s Foot Fetish” »

DVF Talks China, Baby Clothes, And The Wrap Dress That Changed The World

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“The most important thing a young designer can do is offer a product that has value,” Diane von Furstenberg told a packed house of students and devout DVF fans last night at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where the CFDA president was holding a lecture in concurrence with the museum’s current exhibition Impact: Fifty Years of the CFDA. The show, which includes rare archival pieces spanning half a century, from a 1958 Traina-Norell dress and matching coat (gifted by Lauren Bacall) to an original DVF wrap ensemble, inspired von Furstenberg to recount her own career beginnings.

“In 1970, dresses were so stiff they would stand by themselves,” recalled the CFDA president. “I made these flimsy little jersey dresses that no one understood, but they were comfortable.”

As usual, Ms. von Furstenberg’s words were peppered with coveted tips on fashion industry survival. How to finance your start-up? Find a factory that believes in you. Don’t have a showroom? Sell online. “The Internet has changed everything,” said von Furstenberg. “Today it’s easier for an emerging designer because you have a universal audience the minute you start.” To that end, the CFDA’s latest venture, the China Exchange program, will help install American designers abroad and cultivate Chinese talent stateside. “I’m excited about anything that has to do with China,” von Furstenberg told Style.com. “It’s an old civilization that suddenly discovered this new world of luxury—the speed of the growth is fascinating.”

Before turning to business abroad, Ms. von Furstenberg will attend to matters at home—the grandmother of three just received news that she’s expecting a fourth grandchild. “I’m going to spend a fortune on that one,” admitted the designer, whose GapKids capsule collection hits stores later this month. When asked what she plans to gift the lucky newborn, she responded, “I haven’t bought anything yet; I’m very superstitious.”

Photo: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

Student Body-Con

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“You never know what you’re going to get,” Calvin Klein said last night at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s senior show. The FIT alum was playing fashion critic for the evening—something of a role reversal for the iconic designer—and was pleasantly surprised by some of the students. Not that he had experience in his collegiate days. “Back when I was a student, we didn’t have critics. I don’t know what we had!” Klein said with a laugh. Each critic offered advice throughout the program and named one exceptional student an award winner. Klein was full of compliments for his pick, Liudmila Urbina, who showcased a minimalist (naturally) black silk/wool-blend petal-hem coat paired over a simple white gazar cocktail dress (upper left). (Fellow judge Carolina Hererra picked the ladylike designs of Diana Donovan as her favorite.) Other highlights of the runway show—one that took a page from Burberry’s playbook and was shot and broadcast in 3-D—included a fringed mint-colored dress by Jane Carlton that recalled Giambattista Valli’s Spring 2010 collection, and a superbly executed leather men’s motorcycle jacket by Murphy Thiel (upper right), who took home the menswear prize.

Meanwhile, at Parsons, graduating students paraded their collections for a crowd that included William K. Fung and Vera Wang, the evening’s recipients of honorary awards. They weren’t the only winners. Niloufar Mozafari, who took last year’s Geoffrey Beene Design Scholarship and CFDA Scholarship, nabbed the prize for womenswear designer of the year for her memory-inspired collection (lower left). Dylan Taverner, who’s worked with Patrik Ervell, won the trophy for menswear (lower right), and Susan Kay was named childrenswear designer of the year.

Photos: Lorenzo Ciniglio (FIT) and Dan Lecca (Parsons)