The Future of Tradition: Weavers of Oaxaca, Mexico Connect Their Future with Their Past


On Thursday, May 10 at 12pm, The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco will play host to the Chavez Santiago family of the “famed weaving village of Teotitlan de Valle presents its story of this ancient art form, a family, a culture and preserving a way of life across generations.” The New York Times travel writer Freda Moon included them in her article “36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico” in January (they also have a wonderful slideshow that includes some great images of weaving).

Panelists for the Commonwealth Club talk include:

Caracol pattern rug dyed with pecan shells by Federico Chavez Sosa, Master Weaver, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico (Via Facebook)

The Chavez Santiago family uses a “combination of traditional patterns and weaving techniques with modern colors and sensibilities.” The family also works to support their local community and the traditional Zapotec culture.  I’m particularly interested in their commitment to using only 100% natural dyes in their work, which seems both forward-thinking and historically accurate.

Doors open at 11:30am, with the program beginning at noon. Tickets are free for Commonwealth Club members and cost $20 for non-members and $7 for students (with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased online here. Hope to see you there!

For a quick taste of the talk, here is a short film featuring Federico Chavez Sosa:

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Fashion & Sustainability by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose

After attending a CSA Western region event back in 2008 (see my review of “Fashion Conscious” at UC Davis), I became interested in the ethics of producing the fashions that eventually become fashion history. The conversation about the impact the fashion industry is having on our environment continues to grow and change, and this is being reflected in the cannon of literature covering the topic. Fashion & Sustainability by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, smartly uses the second half of their book to discuss “ideas that are transforming the fashion system at root into something more sustainable.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the words “fashion system,” I immediately think of Roland Bathes. However, here are what Fletcher and Grose have to say on the subject when considering sustainability:

Betabrand's commuter cycling pants with reflective pockets and hems (a San Francisco Company)

“However much we innovate and act to improve the sustainability credentials of a piece of clothing, the benefits brought by these changes are always restricted by the behaviour of the person who buys it. Producing a garment with lower-impact fibre or better labour conditions, while important, changes the overall system very little, for these ‘better’ fibres and pieces are made into the same sorts of garments, sold by the same retailers and then worn and washed in the same way as before. Part Two of this book explores new ways of engaging with the process of sustainability in fashion, starting at a point that acknowledges the profound and multiple challenges inherent in bringing together sustainability, the fashion industry and our economic system based on growth.”

Fletcher and Grose go on to explore nine different concepts: Adaptability, optimized lifetimes, low-impact use, service and sharing, local, biomimicry, speed, needs and engaged – all of which present creative ways that various designers and innovators are thinking about the design and use of clothing. Not exactly Roland Barthes – but perhaps a bit more practical?


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Top selling new Fashion History books

I was wandering around Amazon yesterday and discovered a handy list that tells you exactly which new or about-to-be-released books on fashion are already their top sellers. Not only does it indicate what’s about to be a hot topic, it also helps fashion book-horders like myself save money (pre-ordering through Amazon can save you as much as 40% off the regular price).  Anyway – here are just a few of the current top sellers:

Beaton in Vogue By Josephine Ross

Available: April 1, 2012

Book description: “Cecil Beaton was a man of dazzling charm and style, and his talents were many. At the age of twenty he sent Vogue an out-of focus snap of a college play, and for the next half-century and more he kept readers of the magazine up to date on all the various activities of his career. Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue, convinced Beaton to abandon his pocket Kodak, and his resulting photographic work earned him a place among the great chroniclers of fashion. Witty and inventive, he also designed settings for plays and films—and for himself—and as a writer he was an eloquent champion of stylish living. This book includes articles, drawings, and photographs by Beaton dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. Beaton loved Vogue, and his contributions testify to the wit, imagination, and professionalism that he and the magazine always had in common.”

Knitted, Knotted, Twisted, and Twined: The Jewelry of Mary Lee Hu

By Stefano Catalani, Jeannine Falino, and Janet Koplos

Available: March 1, 2012 (though Amazon seems to be out of stock)

Book description: “Over the past 40 years, Mary Lee Hu has affirmed her distinctive voice in the world of jewelry with her elegant, voluptuous creations. Using wire the way hand weavers use threads, Hu has blazed a trail as both artist and innovator, exploring the nexus between metalsmithing and textile techniques, often through the recovery of historical precedents from an ancient past, and inspired by her innate aspiration to perfection and her stubborn curiosity. Hu’s apparently effortless and graceful creations, resulting from twining, weaving, knotting, and braiding, investigate both the possibilities and limits of wire by melding fiber art and jewelry, structure and pattern, light and line. Knitted, Knotted, Twisted, and Twined features exquisite earrings, rings, brooches, and neckpieces drawn from public and private collections internationally. The book traces the evolution and refinement of Hu’s processes and skill from her earliest experimental pieces in the late 1960s–capturing the spirit of a time when craft and lifestyle were so passionately intertwined–to the confidence and movement of her contemporary creations.”

Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

by Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda

Available: May 29, 2012

Book Description: “Although separated by time, Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli—both Italian, both feminists—share striking affinities in terms of their design strategies and fashion manifestoes. Presented as an intimate “conversation,” Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations aims to tease out formal and conceptual similarities between the two designers. Striking photographs and insightful texts illustrate the parallels between the two, including their preferences for interesting textiles and prints, eccentric color palettes, and a bold and playful approach to styling and accessories. Schiaparelli, in the 1920s through 50s, and Prada, from the late 1980s to today, exploited the narrative possibilities of prints, sought out unconventional textiles, played with ideas of good and bad taste, and manipulated scale for surrealistic outcomes. Contemporary art plays a major role in the work of these inventive women—Schiaparelli in her famous collaborations with Dali and Cocteau, and Prada via her Fondazione Prada. Blending the historic with the contemporary, the catalogue brings the masterworks of both designers together into a grand conversation between the most important women fashion designers to ever emerge from Italy.”

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In Memory Of

Ethaan Boyer (via Facebook)

I try to keep my personal life out off of FashionHistoria as much as possible. Today, that is simply not possible and I need to use this space to honor a lost friend and fellow dreamer, Ethaan R.A. Boyer.

He was a friend who has become an inspiration, a dream, and a legend. Though not directly related to fashion history, his work often appeared on his screen-printed t-shirts and fabric. I shared his love for design, art, and craft. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and the Santa Fe art community at large.

Update: A Memorial Fund has just been established in Ethaan’s memory to help support both his wife, and to create a lasting memory of his character, spirit and talents. More information here.

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Fashion & Textiles on view in California and the West

click for source

I recently received a note from a reader, describing her trouble finding information on upcoming fashion and textile exhibitions on view in California. So, I thought I’d share what I know with readers. Quite a variety of exhibits are available across the western states: exhibitions of film costumes, exhibits using old techniques in new ways (embroidery and knitting), historical design aesthetics (including ‘California’ design and the Aesthetic movement), as well as contemporary body art (tattoos!). Quite the range to choose from. Please feel free to comment if you’ve been to any of these or others you think readers should know about:

20th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design
Through April 28, 2012
The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising/Museum & Galleries (Los Angeles, CA)

The FIDM Museum is proud to present the twentieth anniversary Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. Celebrating the art and industry of costume designers, this exhibition will present more than 100 costumes from twenty films released in 2011. The exhibition includes selected costumes from all five 2011 Academy Award® Nominees for Costume Design: W/E, Hugo, Jane Eyre, The Artist, and Anonymous. The exhibition also showcases classic film costumes from the FIDM Museum collection and the Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, Historic Hollywood Collection. Some of these same costumes were featured during the first Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition in 1993.

Common Places: Printing, Embroidery, and the Art of Global Mapping
Through May 13, 2012
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles)

Common Places features three objects from LACMA’s permanent collection which transform printed works on paper into one-of-a-kind embroideries: a seventeenth-century valance, a cigarette silks quilt, and Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa. The resulting textiles articulate contemporary aspects of global phenomena and suggest that far from being a recent development, globalization has deep historical roots that extended into the home and everyday life.

California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”
Through June 3, 2012
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles)

This exhibition is the first major study of California midcentury modern design. With more than 300 objects—furniture, ceramics, metalwork, fashion and textiles, and industrial and graphic design—the exhibition examines the state’s role in shaping the material culture of the entire country. Organized into four thematic areas, the exhibition aims to elucidate the 1951 quote from émigré Greta Magnusson Grossman that is incorporated into the exhibition’s title: California design “is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…It has developed out of our own preferences for living in a modern way.”

The Art of the Anatolian Kilim: Highlights from the McCoy Jones Collection
de Young Museum (San Francisco)
Through June 10, 2012

A world-class collection of Anatolian kilims given to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by H. McCoy Jones and his wife, Caroline, is showcased in a choice exhibition of two dozen of the finest examples. Presented in the textile arts gallery at the de Young, the Anatolian flat-woven kilims on view, dating from the 15th to the 19th century, include a variety of design types and regional styles, as well as superb examples of artistic and visual prowess. The kilims in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection are considered the most important group of Anatolian kilims outside Turkey.

Knitted, Knotted, Twisted & Twined: The Jewelry of Mary Lee Hu
Through  June 17, 2012
Bellevue Arts Museum (Bellevue, WA)

Over the past 40 years, Mary Lee Hu has affirmed her distinctive voice in the world of jewelry with her elegant, voluptuous creations. Using wire the way hand weavers use thread, Hu has blazed a trail as both artist and innovator, exploring the nexus between metalsmithing and textile techniques. Keen to metal’s ability to bend and manipulate light within a textured surface, Hu’s work is a testament to her sophisticated eye for weightless and rhythmic lines, translated into body adornment. Featuring more than 90 exquisite earrings, rings, brooches and neckpieces drawn from public and private collections internationally, this retrospective traces Hu’s evolution from her experimental designs of the 1960s to today’s creations full of light and movement.

The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900
Through June 17, 2012
Legion of Honor (San Francisco)

The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 is the first major exhibition to explore the unconventional creativity of the British Aesthetic Movement, tracing the evolution of this movement from a small circle of progressive artists and poets, through the achievements of innovative painters and architects, to its broad impact on fashion and the middle-class home. The superb artworks on view encompass the manifold forms of Victorian material culture: the traditional high art of painting, fashionable trends in architecture and interior decoration, handmade and manufactured furnishings for the “artistic” home, art photography and the new modes of dress.

Order and Border
Through Oct. 21, 2012
Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA)

Stripes are a fundamental visual element, appearing naturally in vertical lines as trees and in manmade products of all kinds, from street dividers to ornate fabrics. The stripe is so basic it is rarely given isolated attention. This installation examines how stripes decorate and structure objects, bodies and spaces. It follows the many ways that stripes are formulated—swirling, rigid, ragged, skinny or bold—and shows how they appear in a wide range of media from a multitude of cultures. These objects help us recognize the range of meanings that a stripe holds, from a minor design feature to the sign of a significant mythic journey.

Indelibly Yours: Smith Andersen Editions and the Tattoo Project
de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA
February 24 – March 18 and April 13 – July 1, 2012

Featuring work by ten artists—five known for tattoo and five known for printmaking—Indelibly Yours explores the kinship between marking on skin and the practice of drawing on a printing plate.

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Portlandia and the 1890s

(Yes, we realize that's a 1920s flapper's a part of the joke)

In case you missed the latest episode of Portlandia (on IFC), be warned that it is a marvelous example of history and popular culture repeating itself, and repeating itself again. Apparently, the 1890s are a growing trend in Portland and this episode satirizes the mutton-chop wearing, meat-grinding, modern pre-industrial men and women of Portland. I’ll admit, these things are all pretty hip here in the SF Bay Area too – I know a good deal of canners, knitters, beard-growers and straight-razor-users.

Cheers to costume designer Amanda Needham, who won an Emmy for her work on the show last year, for creatively capturing this unique and comedic version of the steam-punk(ish) trend (though it’s admittedly more utilitarian and less glamorous)! Enjoy the clip if you haven’t had a chance to see it:


*Image via OregonLive

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Spotlight on real Costume Design

For those who are enthusiastic about the field of costume design (whether you are an aspiring or working costume designer or you just love movie costumes), there’s a key publication you should be aware of: The Costume Designer. Published by the Costume Designers Guild (local 892), it is the professional union for working costume designers in Hollywood. The current issue celebrates the 25th issue published by the organization and includes a number of articles of interest.

Of course January is Oscar prep season, so many of the ads are promoting designers such as Sandy Powell, Sharen Davis, Deborah Hopper, and Jany Temime (among many others) – asking those voting in the Academy to consider them for the Best Costume Design Oscar. Two special articles include an excerpt from a book on footwear, and a short piece called Beauty in the Details that highlights Drive, The Playboy Club and W.E. (about Wallace Simpson). The best thing about this magazine? It’s free and you can download it as a pdf here:

The Costume Designer


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Beauty: Its study and use

Over the summer, the exhibition, Beauty CULTure came out at the Annenburg Space for Photography looks at how the Los Angeles culture of beauty, media saturation influences the desire of women and young girls to look a certain way. Now, there are two new books that address several issues that came up in the exhibition. From UC Press’s, Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model (September 2011) you have the inside story from model turned sociologist Ashley Mears, while Princeton Press gives us Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful by Daniel S. Hamermesh (August 2011). With New York’s Fashion Week and the accompanying perennial discussions of models and beauty now in full swing, these books seem particularly well-timed.

Ashley Mears is now a sociologist at Boston University, but she began her working life as a fashion model -working in both New York and London and she’s put her reflections and research on the industry into Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model.

Author Ashley Mears

Earlier this week, a Boston Globe article reviewed the book, noting in part: “Mears has produced a fascinating study. . . . She knits together her revealing interviews and draws on the work of sociologist C. Wright Mills, feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon, and other social critics. Yet the greatest strength of “Pricing Beauty’’ is Mears’s own story, one that she artfully threads throughout the book.”

Last week, on, writer Libby Copeland took a longer look at the book and the trend of academics writing on the beauty ‘industry’. Copeland notes, Pricing Beauty “offers a mostly grim picture of what’s endured by those trying to make a living off their looks. Models are utterly dispensable, in Mears’ telling: They labor at the mercy of inscrutable bosses, lousy pay, and punishing physical requirements. And for most of them, that’s how the job will remain until they retire at the ripe old age of, say, 26.”

A third article, in the Boston University Arts & Sciences website titled “Defining Beauty” looks specifically at Mears discussion of race in the fashion industry – and interestingly, how it can determine editorial vs. catalog modeling opportunities.

Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful by Daniel S. Hamermesh does not look at modeling specifically, but rather examines how physical appearance affects earning power across a broad spectrum of occupations. And it seems to be getting equal attention from the media at large – though not always positively. Hamermesh is the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, and professor of labor economics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. More importantly, he’s a labor economist who is well-known for his research on “pulchronomics” – which Entertainment Weekly is now calling a ‘buzzword”. Pulchronomics means, essential, the economics of beauty.

Author Daniel S. Hamermesh

Hamermesh’s work, comes from a very different place than that of Mears (he studies the numbers, she studies people) and a recent Forbes Magazine article by Susan Adams called “Does Beauty Really Pay?” seems to find fault with his methods – saying in part “Hamermesh’s reasoning puzzled me, and I scratched my head at how he could pull precise percentages out of old data and what seemed like rough calculations.” She calls his work rambling, quirky and confounding. But also acquiesces that she found the book thought-provoking and illuminating. I’m rather curious to know how his fellow economists are receiving his work – and if anyone is checking up on his numbers. For those who might want to read an excerpt, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a short one in August.

Some of Hamermesh’s other papers on beauty and economics include:

  • “Changing Looks and Changing Discrimination: The Beauty of Economists,” Economics Letters, December 2006
  • “Beauty in the Classroom: Instructors’ Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity,” Economics of Education Review, August 2005 (with A. Parker).
  • “Dress for Success: Does Primping Pay?” Labour Economics, October 2002 (with M. Xin and J. Zhang).
  • “Business Success and Businesses’ Beauty Capital,” Economics Letters, April 2000, (with G. Pfann, J. Biddle and C. Bosman).
  • “Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers’ Looks and Lucre,” Journal of Labor Economics, January 1998 (with J. Biddle).

I’ll be very curious to see how scholarly fashion studies publications – such as Fashion Theory – respond to this new work.


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The Burning Man Series: Nevada’s Desert Dress History, 1993-2010

Christine Kristen aka LadyBee

I first have to thank readers for their enthusiasm over the first installment of The Burning Man Series: Nevada’s Desert Dress, by Jan Loverin. I received so many wonderful, supportive comments from people (as well as questions and corrections). Thank you!

The second installment in The Burning Man Series: Nevada’s Desert Dress comes to us from Christine Kristen (aka Lady Bee), who provides here an overview of the various costumes that have appeared at Burning Man between 1993 and the present – giving us a much needed history of how festival dress has changed and grown over the years.

LadyBee was the art curator for Burning Man from 1999 -2008, lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man, as well as managing the theme art and the Archives, among other duties. After earning an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago, Christine spent four years in Africa and Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching art and working with woodcarvers.

I first attended Burning Man in 1995, when the population was relatively small, at 4000 attendees. Costumes were shown off in the Sunday fashion show, which is a tradition that continues to this day. In the early years of the event, virtually all the costumes were handmade and quite original – these were the days before fairy wings and fake fur.

Hence the costumes were quirky and sometimes included performance, like Kimric Smythe’s Java Cow. (image 1) On Sunday morning at dawn, a chariot driven by a cow-skull headed human drove up to the man and black coffee was offered to those up and about that early. In 1996, the year of Helco, devil outfits and all their variations were popular. The annual theme often inspires fantastic costumes; the Fertility theme of 1997 produced Gaia and her court of fruits and vegetables. (image 2)

As the event has grown, handmade costumes have been outnumbered by store-bought fashions, which have now coalesced into several distinct looks including fake fur bikinis, leggings and cat-eared hats; floor length fake fur evening coats, and Steampunk-inspired leather outfits with vests, leggings, corsets, gauntlets, goggles and top hats. (image 3) On the extremely mundane side, we see the shirtcockers – men wearing only a t-shirt, and the guys in Dr. Seuss hats, jeans and t-shirts. Nevertheless, you’d be hard pressed to find an event with more fabulous, original and diverse costumes. The “burner” look has spawned a cottage industry of costumers who create these looks and sell them at trunk and special pre-event sales. There is some criticism of this trend as its seems to go against Burning Man’s D.I.Y. aesthetic – why not create one’s own costume? But, in all fairness, not everyone has the time, skills or inclination to do so, and wearing these off-the-rack costumes might be a radical step for some. In addition, the makers of playa costumes and clothing are able to make or supplement their living via community support.

Still, you’ll see hundreds of amazing handmade outfits at the event; as the technology has evolved, so has its incorporation into fantastic programmed EL-wire costumes, which contain moving images like birds flying, figures dancing, and repetitive patterns. (image 4) Group costumes are popular, like the herd of giraffes from South Africa, and the Salvador Dali painting that formed when a group of men stood together, sections of the painting displayed on the backs of their tuxedos. (image 5-see above) Stilt-walking is popular at the event, and has inspired wonderfully whimsical elongated costumes. (image 6)

The fire performers have a particular look, dark and apocalyptic. Standard materials that are prolific at the event, including zip-ties, caution tape, plastic spoons and forks, and duct tape get incorporated into costumes in extremely clever ways. Political views are expressed, individuals made fun of, and social trends played with in costumes. I can’t think of a better place to debut a costume than at Burning Man, where you’re guaranteed an appreciative audience of thousands – currently upwards of 50,000 – who will likely want to know more about you – and your outfit.

Currently, Christine is the Global Arts Curator for For the past two years she has been building a global creative community that will participate in the philanthropic economy being set up in newZonia, where artists can sell work while generating income for nonprofits, promote their causes, and collaborate with others to promote art and philanthropy.

*1999, The Dali Boys, Photo by LadyBee

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