Fashion as Cannibal - Folk Week


By Chloe Kent

Photo by Chloe Kent.

“Fashion,” so the placard before the entrance to the exhibit claims, “is cannibalistic. In its attempt to capture the essence of the present–a moment in constant flux–fashion steals images and concepts from a varied range of disciplines.”

What, then, could folk and fashion possibly have in common, exactly, besides the fact that the latter may occasionally “borrow” from the former?

The American Folk Art Museum has long maintained its presence in the realm of folk but rarely has it delved into the world of fashion. The museum’s newest exhibit, Folk Couture, enlists the artistic perspectives of 13 emerging designers to create works inspired–or perhaps stolen or even eaten, if the museum’s reasoning is to be taken literally–by existing pieces in the museum’s collection to explore “the relationship between inspiration and creation.”

When chief curator, Stacy C. Hollander, and guest curator, Alexis Carreno, tasked designers with the Project Runway-style challenge nearly a year ago, interpretations ranged from the avant garde (a porcupine-inspired Jean Yu frock, complete with straw “armor” protruding from the shoulder) to the relatively tame (a Creatures of the Wind tropical print gown taken from a Eugene Von Bruenchenhein photograph of the artist’s wife posed before a backdrop of hibiscus flowers).

Designer trio ThreeASFOUR, took inspiration from a Star of David-patterned 19th century quilt created by a group of Quaker women as a token of friendship. “You have the Christian pattern, a four-pointed star, and then the Islamic one, based on the five-pointed star, and the Jewish, [which] is based on the six-pointed star,” explained the designers of the concept behind their work. “When you put them together, they create this new pattern.”

ThreeASFOUR looked to tile designs from churches, synagogues, and mosques from across the globe to, as they told Harper’s Bazaar, “expose the similarity in the architecture of these temples, which show the common origin of these conflicting religions.”

Designer Catherine Malandrino, on the other hand, found inspiration in a simple, white ” turn-of-the-century papercut with Odd Fellows symbols” to create a breezy asymmetrical lace dress. Her aim, so she told the museum, was to, in the spirit of the fraternal order, “elevate the character of mankind by promoting friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, and charity. This dress is an ultimate love message.”

Photo by Chloe Kent.

Despite the premise of the exhibition, “In reality, folk art and fashion often cannibalize each other,” points out The New York Times’ Karen Rosenberg. “In quilts made of clothing scraps, for instance, or even in portraits by the early American painter Ammi Phillips, who sometimes looked to European fashion prints when posing his subjects.”

Other designers featured in the exhibit include Chadwick Bell, Fabio Costa, Gary Graham, Bibhu Mohapatra, John Bartlett, Ronaldus Shamask, Michael Bastian, Yeohlee Teng, and Koos van den Akker.

“Folk Couture” will run until Apr 23rd at the American Folk Art Museum, located at 2 Lincoln Square.