Subscribe to our RSS feed:

RSS Feed Button

by Brook S. Mason
The next time you eye a fully tattooed creature bedecked with nose rings, spiked collar and knee-high lace-up boots, don’t cringe. That critter is plying today’s fashion craze: Gothic, which is both grim and glamorous.

To glimpse Gothic in its entire sartorial splendor, catch the latest show at the Museum at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York. With the new exhibition, "Gothic: Dark Glamour," Sept. 5, 2008-Feb. 21, 2009, the frequently published, Yale Ph.D.-trained museum director Valerie Steele has delivered a powerhouse presentation that is right up there alongside "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. Her rendition of Gothic isn’t mere frocks on mannequins, but rather a complete exploration of the style, from mourning veils to jewelry, all set in a series of captivating settings, including a labyrinth and a castle in ruins. With this, Steele brings academic prowess to the world of panache, theatricality and style.

Steele offers up far more than couture clothes. Prominent is Eiko Ishioka’s crimson silk bustled gown from the 1992 Winona Ryder starrer, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Plus, Steele’s pairings -- like a 2007 Givenchy evening dress in champagne silk gauze juxtaposed with a repro of Henry Fuseli’s horrifying The Nightmare (1781) -- are inspired. And Steele raises the bar for depth of exploration by combing not just Paris fashion shows but also the punk rock scene. There is Alexander McQueen’s faux pony skin bustier for Thierry Mugler, while nearby John Galliano’s spring 2006 dress features skulls picked out in sequins on a black gown. 

This show is right in sync with today’s penchant for lace (think Prada). Then with HBO debuting its new vampire series True Blood and Halloween’s red wax blood-sucking lips already in shops, Steele’s exhibition is right on the mark. Hands down, this should be the most talked about show on the museum circuit as well as the retail world.  Barney’s has never looked so boring.

Light fantastic
Though Paris designer Andrée Putman is 83, she’s still among the younger talents on the hotel design scene.  She’s newly rehatched the Morgans Hotel on Madison Avenue in Murray Hill and brought on French lighting artists Trafik to create a show-stopping lobby.

Their artistry is on display on the ceiling, no less. The patterns in a hip palette give the ceiling a kind of disco-floor chic though revved up with 4,000 lights. In all, there are 20 different designs and 16 colors and the mood runs from festive to tranquil. Best of all, Morgans’ guests have the option to set the designs in the $10-million hotel redesign. Those who take in the hotel should search out the Putman furniture, from her pared down take on the iconic guèridon (a French side table) to her slipper chairs. With this dazzling ceiling, Putman and Trafix raise the bar for a new kind of Franco-American chic.

Uptown on Fifth Avenue, the French Embassy Cultural Services is celebrating designer with the exhibition "Beyond Style: Andrée Putman," Sept. 10-Oct. 10, 2008.

Celluloid mania
Tinseltown seems to think that U.S. movie-goers need yet another aristocratic English country house on the big screen. So on Sept. 17, 2008, The Duchess opens in theaters, starring Keira Knightly along with Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Duke of Devonshire

Art-market fans should note that the present Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish, serves as Sotheby’s deputy chairman and he frequently uses the grounds to showcase auction-house offerings. The movie features fabulous costumes, luxurious interiors and some very good shots set against the Chatsworth façade, and if this film is a box-office hit, Chatsworth is bound to see attendance soar.

YSL Memorialized
Right now, the Montreal Museum of Art is headlining "Yves Saint Laurent," May 29-Sept. 28, 2008, an exhibition spanning 40 years of fashions by the celebrated designer Yves Saint Laurent -- who died on June 1, 2008 -- mounted in collaboration with the Paris Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent. Packed with 160 Saint Laurent designs and accessories, the show includes sketches with fabric swatches attached, giving a window onto the genesis of his ideas. Close to one third of the works have never before been exhibited.

Saint Laurent’s famous maxim, "Trends change, style lasts," characterizes his own designs, of course, much of which remains timeless. From his 1958 Trapeze line and his 1966 chic "Le Smoking" tuxedo on, St. Laurent has few equals in fashion today. 

If you can’t make it to Canada in the next few weeks to take in the exhibition, grab the catalogue, Yves Saint Laurent: Style (Abrams, 2008), with text by Vogue editor Hamish Bowles. It will become a standard reference book, and the closest most readers will ever get to the extensive YSL archives. In November, the show travels to the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

But for a real close-up of YSL, his fashion shows and the players, pick up Paris 1962: Yves St. Laurent and Christian Dior (Rizzoli, 2008), with sensual black and white photographs by film director Jerry Schatzberg, who helmed  the famous 1971 tale of junkies in love, Panic in Needle Park. Staley Wise Gallery represents Schatzberg and his images go for $10,000 and up.

Also watch vintage YSL togs go sky high in price at resale shops while more such fare can be expected to appear on the auction block. Even his work from the long-ago 1960s is in sync with today. Back in 1960, St. Laurent designed a black crocodile jacket trimmed with mink.

Those who fancy real YSL togs should head to Decades, Cameron Silver’s vintage clothing shop in Los Angeles. In creating far more than a mere resale store, Silver has lined up close to 200 YSL examples and his business is global in its reach.  Among his holdings are some 30 pussycat silk blouses or, as Silver calls them, "secretary blouses." They run only $150 to $200, but the St. Laurent Safari suit costs a staggering $22,000. So Fed Exing frocks from L.A. to New York and Hamptons is commonplace. "What’s changed is that with a broader audience, fewer garments are out there," says Silver. Even so, he has the best YSL stash in the country.

St. Laurent took not only fashion to new heights but also collecting. He amassed 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century furniture as well as artworks by Matisse, Picasso and Warhol. Towards the end of his life, St. Laurent began assembling a vast collection of early cameos.

Prediction: when Christie’s debuts its sale of St. Laurent’s enormous collection -- and details will be announced later this month -- the extended fashionista family can be expected to fight over the lots. 

Babar achieves museum status
The hipster contemporary art world has just rediscovered the nursery-school world’s best loved pachyderm, Babar, along with Celeste, Pom, Zephir and the rest of his cohorts. For starters, the Morgan Library & Museum is showcasing "Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors," Sept. 19, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009.  The show features some 175 manuscripts drafts, sketches and watercolors by the French authors, Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff, who happen to be father and son.

Nothing like a museum show to raise approval in collecting circles. Chelsea dealer Mary Ryan has exclusively represented Laurent de Brunhoff as well as the estate of Jean de Brunhoff since 1986. In December (just in time for holiday giving), she will showcase original illustrations by Laurent in her gallery.

Prices for original Babar illustrations have more than doubled in a decade. Now drawings and watercolor illustrations for the books hover in the $4,000-$25,000 range. Even the silkscreen prints published by Ryan have taken a hike. What cost $850 ten years back now runs up to $4,500. Jean’s work, though, is the steepest as it rarely comes to market. Expect his renditions to be marked $75,000-$150,000.

"Major collectors of old master, folk and contemporary art have collected original de Brunhoff Babar illustrations," says Mary Ryan. She believes Babar stirs up memories of childhood and collectors are far ahead of museums in seeking out the best of children’s book illustrations, just as they were largely ahead of museums in taking on photography back in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Millennium design goes prefab
Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, has scored a coup with "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling," July 20-Oct. 20, 2008. While the mere notion of prefab housing is constantly disparaged, Bergdoll nonetheless serves up five full-scale contemporary homes -- on a lot adjacent to the museum -- that are the height of innovation.

In MoMA’s sixth floor special exhibitions gallery is a survey of prefab designs since 1833. A 1948 house made entirely of porcelain-enameled steel -- the Lustron Westchester -- is totally dreary, while a row of models of houses designed by Jean Prouvé remain startlingly modern in tone. 

Outdoors, be sure to check out Kieran Timberlake Architects’ abode made of recyclable materials. Their glowingly translucent celluloid staircase is appealing, though it has got to require plenty of day-to-day cleaning to keep it looking good.

With this show, home shopping has never been so simple or so stylish.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times, the New York Sun and other publications.