Tag Archives: New York

MA Study Trip to New York City: The Museum at FIT

In February the MA History of Dress students had a week long study trip to New York to visit archives and museums. The next six posts will share various aspects of the trip and the objects we saw. 

Part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the '70s exhibition.
Part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the ’70s exhibition.
A Halston dress from the Fashioning the ’70s exhibition.

On a recent study trip to New York, the MA group were invited to an Alumni event at The Museum at FIT. Emma McClendon, who graduated from the Courtauld in 2011 is now an assistant curator at FIT, hosted the event, which was an exhibition she had co-curated: Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the 70s. The exhibition is the first to examine the careers and work of two of the biggest designers in 20th century fashion side-by-side. As both Saint Laurent’s and Halston’s designs came to exemplify, the 1970s has been considered a ‘singular and dynamic era in fashion history,’ and was also a decade framed by three themes which inspired the designers’ collections: menswear, exoticism, and vintage historicism.

When entering the space, the clothing is separated into platforms and pods.  The clothing on the platforms framed the pods, and also demonstrated how the designer’s visions and approaches to dress resulted in very similar outcomes, often indistinguishable from one another. Whereas, running through the middle of the exhibition space the pods established the juxtapositions between the designers, through the three themes and really showcased the differences, particularly towards the end of the decade. This was especially highlighted in the last pod, which was dedicated toward the influence of historical referencing upon the designers.

Saint Laurent was heavily influenced by fashions of the Belle Époque, which can be seen in some of his more feminine, yet, dramatic creations. He also drew upon the trend for vintage dressing, which had been emerging on the streets of Paris at the time. On the other hand, Halston was enamoured by the Hollywood glamour of the smaller time period of the 1930s and 1940s. He looked to women couturiers that had dominated high fashion during the inter-war period as sources of inspiration for his own pieces. Here, the identities of the two designers are really established.  For me, the third section really solidified the vocabularies of both designers as Halston became known as ‘the streamlined, unisex, minimalist,’ whilst Saint Laurent became ‘the fantastical colourist.’

This streamlined and minimalistic nature of Halston’s creations is effortlessly captured in the construction of the blue evening dress shown in the accompanying image. Made in 1972, the dress was gifted to the museum by Lauren Bacall. The blue, silk jersey dress features two long bands of fabric that can be tied in various ways to show the amount of skin desired. The fabric is what makes the dress, there are no obvious decorative elements, for example no buttons or zips can be seen, even as closures. This is because Halston did not believe in his clothes as having any ‘ostentatious decorative elements’ to them, and looked toward the inspiration of designers, such as Madeleine Vionnet and Claire McCardell for this more streamlined approach. This look also drew influence from 1930s bathing suits. In this respect, Halston appropriated the silhouettes of daytime swimwear and turned them into eveningwear ensembles.



East Village Eye: New Wave Fashion of the Recent Future

Modern Girls at Play, East Village Eye, June 1979.
Girls in rehearsal shorts
Rhonda, in clothes from East Village boutique Natasha.
Models in a mix of vintage finds.

East Village Eye – a magazine published between 1979 and 1987 – shows the medium’s power to encapsulate a moment and to convey the excitement of collaboration, in terms of its contributors and of the collages of text and images of art, music, fashion and life in general in ‘80s New York. Drawing on the cut-up aesthetic of fanzines and the pop culture graphics of comic books, it brings to mind Guy Lawley’s discussion of their role in crystallizing subcultural ideals: ‘In some important ways, the origins of punk itself are closely linked to the comics medium.  By the winter of 1975-76, the new music coming out of New York’s CBGBs club (The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Patti Smith etc) was generating an intense local buzz, but little wider acclaim. People were calling it things like “street rock” until Punk magazine appeared in December of 1975 to give the scene a catchy name and (the appearance of) a unified identity. Indeed, it is claimed that The Eye was the first to use the term ‘hip hop’ – in an interview with rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa – and these two subcultures dominate its pages, influencing art and pop culture in equal measures.

The Eye depicts the chaos of downtown and the possibilities that opened up for young artists – of all genres, who were able to rent cheap spaces in a part of the city abandoned by big commerce.  The area quickly became the generator of new art, and home to a string of vintage and fashion boutiques that dressed its participants. It speaks to the significance of space and place in hot housing trends of various kinds, and of the vibrancy of street culture at the time – punk and hip hop intersect on its pages, and the influence and significance of Situationist art co-mingle with graffiti and New Wave.

With its recognizably ‘80s aesthetics, The Eye is a remnant of the recent past, but simultaneously projects a confusing – but fascinating – sense of actually being about the recent future, through its representation of art and fashion culture of the time: it’s gone, but it’s still here, over, but still suggesting something new. This is reflected in editor Leonard Abrams’ statement at the front of the magazine, which says:

East Village Eye is a new newspaper for new culture. Enjoying a mutually parasitic relationship with the East Village and surrounding areas, The Eye … promotes the new mutations of Positivist Futurism, put forth in the watchwords: “It’s all true.”

Inevitably, fashion is a significant component of this mix – a way to embody and perform the new ideals and become a living rendition of the artistic and subcultural manifestos expressed on the magazine’s pages.  And it is now possible to examine these influences in detail, as several copies of East Village Eye are now available to download http://www.east-village-eye.com/issues-year.html, including the June 15 1979 edition with its retro-futurist style fashion supplement.

This edition’s cover and the ensuing pages cut and paste together fashion spreads and adverts that show the promiscuous combinations of periods and styles that somehow coalesced into a recognizably New Wave dress code. Its focus on Pop Art glamour – as seen through ‘40s Hollywood make-up, ‘30s rehearsal shorts and floral tea dresses, is balanced with classic ‘50s casual wear for men and sharp suits that recall ‘30s gangster films. Even the photographic style deployed is a combination of old and new – some are styled to look like Richard Avedon shots of poised elegance, others rehearse the ‘straight-up’ that i-D magazine would come to define a couple of years later.

The focus on second-hand stores and – in most cases – the anonymity of the clothes origins suggest individuality and creative freedom from the ‘official’ fashion world. However, the text recognizes that these same styles and periods were also influencing ready-to-wear. This is a reminder that, as Angela McRobbie has written: ‘Most of the youth subcultures of the post-war period have relied on second-hand clothes found in jumble sales and ragmarkets as the raw material for the creation of style.’ And yet: ‘not all junk is used a second time around. Patterns of taste and discrimination shape the desires of second-hand shoppers as much as they do those who prefer the high street or the fashion showroom.’

Film, literature, music, comics, the street – both of the current and earlier times become cyphers for styling the downtown art/fashion/music performer that The Eye spoke to and for.  Download and be part of the recent future.

With thanks to Leonard Abrams for his generosity in giving access to issues of East Village Eye, and allowing us to reproduce these images.








Guy Lawley, ‘”I like Hate and I hate everything else”: The Influence of Punk on Comics,’ in Roger Sabin, ed., Punk Rock: So What? (London: Routledge, 1999)

Angela McRobbie, ‘Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket,’ in Angela McRobbie, ed., Zootsuits and Second-Hand Dresses (London: Routledge, 1989)