9 posts tagged "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.
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.
“We all started here,” related designer Byron Lars of his experience studying at the Pratt Institute. “Up all night, working tirelessly on your collection—your first collection—the first one that anybody in the industry will actually view. It’s a really big thing.” Lars and the legendary Stephen Burrows were honored by Pratt in a ceremony just before the annual Pratt student fashion show yesterday at Center548 in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood.
“To be awarded for [something that I feel is a privilege every day]—it’s like, that feels really wrong!” exclaimed Lars upon receiving his Fashion Visionary Award from longtime friend and fan Angela Bassett. (“Uptown they call it swag. Downtown, struts. But up the way where I’m from, they say, ‘I’m feelin’ myself,’” said Bassett of what it means to wear Lars’ colorful creations.)
Burrows thanked his muse, Pat Cleveland (who danced down the runway to present him with his Lifetime Achievement Award), for inspiration for his game-changing designs. “What inspired me to even want to do this? What I thought of first was my mother’s black patent-leather pumps—and, of course, my meeting with Pat Cleveland,” recalled Burrows. As a student fresh out of Pratt, “I didn’t see a need for a lining. I didn’t even want underwear. That was a little risqué at the time, but it was fantastic,” he said. “It’s all about freedom.”
For the students last night as well, there was a sense of uninhibited creativity on the runway. Sixties space-age-style wares, monochromatic sculptural separates, deconstructed sweaters dripping in cakey off-white paint, and pastel color-blocked, candy-sweet knit crop tops represented just a few of the twenty-one student collections on view. “[The landscape of fashion] has always been mercurial by nature, but now…social media and online sales have changed everything we do,” said Lars. “It’s just about being sensitive to the opportunities that are presented—the real opportunities.”
“You never know what you’re going to see,” added Burrows just before the show, “but hopefully it’s something innovative and new and exciting.”
“It actually started with my godmother,” explained Pratt Institute fashion professor and curator Adrienne Jones. “She has been collecting information on black designers—she’s 85 now—forever. And one day I was talking to her and I said, ‘You know what? The information is not out there—and it needs to be out there.’”
Five years later, Jones is presenting Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers, an exhibition that opens at Pratt Manhattan Gallery this Friday and showcases the works of contemporary black designers. Jones has brought together a diverse range of today’s African-American talent—artists such as menswear fur pioneer Jeffrey Banks, ready-to-wear designer Tracy Reese, and the iconic Stephen Burrows, as well as newer designers including Michael Jerome Francis, known for his hyper eco-conscious designs, Queens-based body-con aficionado LaQuan Smith, and former Project Runway star Rodney Epperson (above). Photographer and mixed-media artist Carrie Mae Weems has also contributed an original film for the project.
“We wanted to show the huge span [of talent] that we have,” related Jones. “I talk to my undergraduates and say, ‘Who’s your favorite designer?’ And they name the designer or designers that they like. And whether [the students] are black or white, they never know any black designers. So this was an opportunity for me to not only teach them, but [all the others] who don’t know that this collection of people, this collection of talent, exists.”
“This is an honor,” said Smith, in front of his three chosen designs in the gallery (set up to mimic a series of Madison Avenue-esque storefront windows). “If anything, it’s a celebration for us as African-American designers to be able to show our work in such a prestigious spotlight with Pratt, alongside legends like Stephen Burrows, and to be able to say, ‘This is our message.’”
Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers will be on view from February 7 to April 26. Jones hopes to take it nationwide, as well as translate the research into a Black Dress book in the future.
While London Town is paying tribute to eighties clubwear, New York is revisiting the late-night antics of Studio 54. To mark the final leg of its exhibition “Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced,” which closes on July 28, the Museum of the City of New York will host “Studio 54 and Beyond,” a discussion of New York’s 1970s club scene. The museum has invited the likes of Vanity Fair‘s Bob Colacello (formerly the right-hand man to Andy Warhol, editor of Interview magazine, and author of the publication’s infamous nightlife column, “Out”), restaurateur Richie Notar (who once served as a Studio 54 busboy), and club regular model Pat Cleveland to reminisce. Considering the laundry list of artists, literati, celebrities, fashion personalities, and all-around characters who frequented the hot spot, we imagine the panelists will have plenty to talk about.
“Studio 54 and Beyond” is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, July 17. For tickets, visit the museum’s Web site.
The work of Stephen Burrows is as much about fun as it is about fashion. And that message shines through in a retrospective of the designer’s early creations, which opens at the Museum of the City of New York tomorrow. Burrows and the show’s curators, Phyllis Magidson and Daniela Morera, gave Style.com a sneak peek of the exhibition, which features more than fifty garments created between 1968 and 1983. “I didn’t think of it as history-making or anything,” says Burrows of his early, flowing garments made to be worn with ease on the dance floor until 4 a.m. “I just did what I wanted to see in front of me.”
Intentional or not, Burrows’ clothes were history-making. At the beginning of his career, fashion’s status quo was old-world, and generally French. It wasn’t until the fabled “Battle of Versailles”—a decadent 1973 fund-raiser for the then-decaying palace during which American designers Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Anne Klein outshined elite French talents Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro—that American designers became truly respected. Burrows’ fresh, fun, and wildly colorful Versailles collection—shown on video in the exhibition—was all about a free-spirited aesthetic. His presence at “The Battle” also made him the first African-American designer to rise to international acclaim. Continue Reading “Stephen Burrows, Still Dancing” »