By Ariele Elia
The Costume Society of America recently hosted its 42nd Annual Meeting and National Symposium, titled The Full Cleveland: Dress as Communication, Self-Expression, and Identity, in Cleveland, Ohio. The symposium opened with a keynote address by Teri Agins, author of Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers. Agins discussed the ongoing phenomenon of celebrities creating their own clothing lines. She entertained the audience with celebrity stories she collected while writing for The Wall Street Journal. Her talk provided an insider’s view into who actually designs these lines, who is the most successful, who started the trend, and why it is leading today’s clothing industry. She discussed lines started by Donald Trump, Jennifer Lopez, Carlo Santana, P. Diddy and of course the Kardashians. At the opening reception attendees including Executive Director, Kristen Miller Zohn and Tina Bates, author of A Cultural History of Uniforms, dressed up in their best rendition of the Full Cleveland (a 1970s ensemble complete with a white belt and matching white shoes).
A variety of academic papers were presented on topics such as costume design, ethnographic clothing, material culture analysis, and teaching costume studies. Below are a few selected highlights. Lauren Boumaroun, Ph.D candidate in UCLA’s Cinema and Media Studies program presented on the wardrobe of Saul Goodman in the television series Better Call Saul. Boumaroun discussed how the character built a visual identity through referencing the wardrobes and persona of other onscreen stars such as Matlock. Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator at The Bata Shoe Museum and curator of Out of The Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture spoke about the origins of the sneakers and their connection to hip hop and menswear. She highlighted famous styles such as Chuck Taylor’s All Stars, Puma’s Clyde, Nike’s Air Force One and Air Jordans, along with the various designer collaborations. Winner of the Stella Blum Student Research Grant, Matthew Lee Hale, Ph.D candidate at Indiana University presented his ongoing research Cosplay: Creating the Body Fantastic. Hale documented the process of creating the elaborate costume for Cosplay conventions such as San Diego’s Comic Con. Ashley Garrin, Ph.D from Iowa State University discussed a case study of African American women’s hair as a symbol of individual and collective identity during the civil rights movement. Her presentation was divided into three areas: boundaries, consciences, and negotiation, which create a collective identity construct. The Costume Institute at the MET was the winner of the Richard Martin Exhibition Award for Charles James: Beyond Fashion. Jan Reeder provided a behind-the-scene look of how the exhibition was put together. Reeder explained the process of having the conservation team creating mock ups of pattern pieces for the animation team. The finished animation allowed the viewer to see the complex construction of James’ dresses. These animations will be available online in the next few months.
Additional symposium tours included a behind the scenes tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum vault. The collections manager unveiled some of the most covetable items in their collection and explained their storage methods. One of their most interesting pieces was Lady Gaga’s famed meat dress. This piece is on display in their new exhibition Louder Than Words, which examines the political messages disseminated through music. Gaga wore this dress to make the statement about the US military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, stating, “If we don’t stand up for what we believe…we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.” Prior to entering into the museum collection, a taxidermist was consulted on how to conserve the dress made of Argentinian red meat. The collections manager explained that the process was similar to dehydrating beef to create jerky. An unforeseen complication was maintaining the structure of the dress. During the dehydration process the dress lost its form. A structure was later put underneath to provide some stability to the dress. To create the original red color of the dress, it was later dyed to mimic the deep red color of the raw meat. Some argue that the conservation has its ethical issues. To learn more about the process visit this article.
Other highlights of the visit were Flavor Flav’s oversized clock he wore around his neck; Janet Jackets leather jacket worn at Super Bowl XXXVIII during her infamous wardrobe malfunction; a pair of teal snakeskin shoes worn by Keith Moon from the WHO, and a pair of green rhinestone platform boots worn by Peter Criss of KISS. The glass pyramid building is a masterpiece designed by I.M. Pei and has memorabilia including cars and hot dogs suspended from the ceiling. The multiple levels of the museum hold a gems ranging from John Lennon’s acoustic guitar to costumes worn by Elvis, The Beatles, KISS, Funkadelic, and Beyoncé to name a few.
While venturing outside the hotel I stumbled across an Art Deco facade with “The Arcade” written in gold. Upon entered I was blown away by the bright light beaming in from the curved glass ceiling. I had been transported back to the Victorian era and in awe of the five stories of shop windows. The Arcade was the first indoor shopping mall in American built in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller. In 2011 the Hyatt had undertaken the task of restoring The Arcade and converting it into a hotel, shopping, and dining area. Another incredible example of restoration downtown is the Cleveland Trust Rotunda. Originally designed as a bank in 1908 by George Brown Post, (architect of the New York Stock Exchange), it has been transformed into Heinen’s, the most luxurious grocery store and wine bar. Many CSA attendees finished off the conference with a glass of wine under the blue and green stained glass Rotunda.
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Ariele Elia, assistant curator of Costume and Textiles, Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT); she has curated or co-curated a number of exhibits including: “Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits,” “Fashion and Technology,” and “Global Fashion Capitals.” Currently she is co-curated “Black Fashion Designers,” set to open December 2017. Elia has lectured on at Oxford, NYU, Eyebeam, and the University of Rhode Island. Her essay, “The Wardrobe of the Modern Athlete: Activewear in the 1930s” was published in the book Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashion of the 1930s. Elia is currently writing an essay about the influence of deep sea on fashion for the catalog Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme. She holds an M.A. in Fashion and Textile: History, Theory, and Museum Practices from FIT, as well as a B.A. in Art History from Saint Mary’s College of California. More posts by the Author »