Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Hint of Things to Come...*

This is what I wrote on Jan. 30, 2007 for a proposed study plan at this university.
Obviously, I didn't get it because I'm here and not there. Still my dream to soak up American fashion from the post World War I era to the present is still very much alive. Anyhow, here's what I typed up more than a year ago:

I’m particularly interested in learning how past designers influence current ones. It’s relevant because I would like to become an expert and write articles and books on fashion-related topics.
It’s important to study past fashions because they influence what’s being manufactured today. For example, the 1970s peasant-style dresses are back. Instead of being made in 100 percent or tacky polyester as you might have found during the height of the Watergate, you’re seeing them sewn up in soft silks and cotton/rayon knits that weren’t available thirty years ago. There’s also a revival of the high-waisted pants, first seen in the 1930s then again during the Carter administration. Now they’re made of stretch denim with pockets for iPods! That’s a far cry from wearing scratchy wool pants with little ease and you had to tote all your necessities in a purse.
Studying fashion is relevant to my current career objectives because I love making clothes. I live, eat, breath garment-making - it’s the first thing I look at when I sit down at my computer in the morning with my cup of Cappuccino Cooler, and eBay auctions of vintage sewing and knitting patterns are often the last things I look at before I close my office door for the day, a frothy glass of Guinness Stout in my hand. When I’m on the bus, I’m crocheting a skirt, after hours I’m stitching underwear on my Viking Husqvarna sewing machine. I fall asleep thinking about then next tiered skirt I’m going to make, the fabrics I want to buy at the local fabric store, even the notions I’ll need to complete the project. I figure I’ll die with a Simplicity pattern in my hand or slumped over my sewing machine, the light burning.
What I enjoy even more is writing about what I stitch. When I’m not creating something to wear with my hands, I’m sharing what I know about about my hand-crafts. I want the universe to know how much fun it is to create your own unique attire. It isn’t always the least expensive way to add to your wardrobe, but it’s the most satisfying. I want to share the journey of the making of a garment, even if the final product is a bust. Trust me - I’ve tossed out more than my fair share of half-sewn gowns bad, ripped back sweaters gone awry.
Sure, I could just simply sew, crochet and knit but I want to study know more about the clothes I’m making. I want to know their history. I’d like to immerse myself in the work of the great American designers: Bill Blass, Adrian, Jacques Fath, and many others. I’m particularly fascinated with U.S. fashion because I’m of of Polish-German descent. I would love to study how immigrants in the early 20th century forged their way and succeeded in the hurly-burly world of design. How did Claire McCardell come up with her imaginative swimsuit designs; Adrian, his incredible gowns for Hollywood star Joan Crawford? I’m eager to study every stitch, button and loophole on the vintage gowns and apparel created by fabulous American designers.
An old garment “has an emotional connection,” Karen Augusta, a North Westminster, Vt., vintage clothing dealer and appraiser told me for a Christian Science Monitor story I wrote on vintage wedding gowns. “Wedding dresses and baby clothes are saved more than any [other clothing]. When we look at them in a museum, and read about who wore them, there's a mystery and identity tied up in them. If you look at wedding dresses ... from the '50s, you think of Elvis Presley. Looking at furniture from the same period doesn't evoke the same connection."
Why not just study Kate Spade and Vera Wang? I have to agree with what Tori Gulisano, a vintage clothing dealer in Fort Myers, Fla. who I also interviewed for the Christian Science Monitor article: Vintage dresses "have more style, they don't fall apart like modern clothes," Ms. Gulisano says. "People want to look like Jean Harlow or Marilyn Monroe; they were icons. These women were the epitome of fashion. Nowadays you've got Britney Spears. Back then, the stars still had style and class."
I want to study the construction of these vintage garments so I can apply it in my own work and share my knowledge with others. Why is important to know technique? Well you know the saying “You’ve got to know the rules before you break them”? That’s never more true than in fashion. It’s helpful to know how to machine-stitch a zipper so you can put a zipper in an unconventional place: like on a hat where you would least expect one. Or a belt. What I absorb from the greats I can impart to other readers even if they never pick up a crochet hook or a knitting needle in their life. Lessons learned from sewing, crochet and knitting can be applied to real life.
Why do readers need to know about fashion? You might suggest there are more important things to discuss, but fashion is critical because it’s escapism at its best. Fashion used to be about uniformity, now it’s about individualism. Seen on TV, it’s entertainment:
“America’s Top Model” or “Project Runway.” Even in literature, ‘The Devil Wears Prada" the catwalk represents an opportunity to forget about terrorism, the cold weather outside, the nearly empty checking account, the cat crying to be fed even just for a moment.
It is the place where, when you’re swept up in the moment of creativity, you can create a piece of wearable art that no one else, not even a Martian, will have in their closet. Isn’t that amazing?
On that note, I think I’ll return to eBay, where I’m watching an auction for a 1950s crochet skirt pattern. If I win it, I’ll have to see how I can recreate it with contemporary fibers...

* My headline could be interpreted in more ways than one, since not only since I'm still pursuing plans to study fashion design, but I plan to cut this glitzy camouflage fabric and turning it into a lined shift. Stay tuned for more on that soon. By the way, I think I won the crochet pattern if it's the one I'm thinking of...

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