- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

“Clothing the Rebellious Soul” at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is a nostalgic look at counterculture fashions of the 1960s and early 1970s. Mannequins dressed in vintage bell-bottoms, peasant blouses and mini skirts reflect the hallmarks of hippie style from the Woodstock generation.

Organized by vintage clothiers Nancy Gewirz and Mark Hooper, the exhibit takes baby boomers on a groovy trip down memory lane. At the same time, it reminds younger viewers that the bohemian fashions now in vogue came from their parents’ beads, peace signs and psychedelic prints.

The curators have made an effort to connect the designs to their turbulent times with posters, record albums and memorabilia from the era. For hippie youth, clothing became a means of personal protest against the establishment. Wearing a camouflage Army shirt or a jacket adorned with the American flag was more than a fashion statement; it was a political statement about the unpopular Vietnam War.

Three-piece suits and shirtwaist dresses were cast aside for casual, mismatched garb expressive of nonconformity. The exhibit reflects this eclectic style in vintage outfits put together from Victorian-style camisoles, military gear, leather halter tops, crocheted dresses and ethnic pieces from India, Hungary and Mexico.

Denim jeans and jackets, the uniform of the era, are shown to be individualized by both sexes with hand-painted decorations, embroidery and political buttons.

Indian-style moccasins and beaded headbands, colorful bandanas and tinted granny glasses finished the look.

The only significant item missing from the gallery’s hippie love-in is a tie-dyed T-shirt, a curious oversight given the curators’ clear affection for the period.

Surrounding the clothing are song lyrics from popular bands as reminders of the musicians who set the hip fashion trends. Leading the way were Janis Joplin in a feather boa, Jimi Hendrix in a fringed jacket and Jim Morrison in leather pants, all recalled in photographs by Elaine Mayes, who documented rock groups during the 1960s.

Andy Warhol’s pop art also played a role in designs such as “The Souper Dress,” a paper shift emblazoned with Campbell soup cans. Even more emblematic of the period are the brightly colored artworks by Peter Max, but his important influence on 1960s fashion is only conveyed through a horoscope-decorated scarf displayed in a vitrine outside the gallery.

In addition to the clothes are documents and artifacts from the 1960s and 1970s in hallway displays to remind viewers of the decades’ social and political unrest. Raised fists symbolizing black power, recruiting brochures for the radical Students for a Democratic Society and an Army helmet emblazoned with “draft beer, not students” are among the mementos representing the civil rights and anti-war movements.

In places, the assortment of objects resembles the thrift stores where hippies often shopped for their fashions. It provides an informative if uneven backdrop to the clothing but only scratches the surface of the rebellious era.

WHAT: “Clothing the Rebellious Soul: Revolution 1963-1973”
WHERE: Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, George Washington University, 805 21st St. NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, through Jan. 22
PHONE: 202/994-1525
WEB SITE: www.gwu.edu/~bradyart/

Mary Baskett, curator of prints at the Cincinnati Art Museum, frequently travels to Japan for her work and her wardrobe. Since the 1970s, she has been collecting apparel from designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo.

These Japanese fashion innovators have made their mark by challenging the very nature of clothing with radical garments combining influences from East and West.

Inventive pieces from the three designers, all pulled from Ms. Baskett’s closet, are on view at the Textile Museum to provide a sampling of their prolific careers. The 41 ensembles don’t always represent the most cutting-edge work — Ms. Baskett seems to prefer more wearable pieces over outlandish creations — but there is enough here to provide a good idea of the designers’ themes.

The exhibit’s offbeat installation presents the fashions as artworks while emphasizing their avant-garde ideas. Rather than being displayed on traditional mannequins, the clothes are slipped over forms supported on cables and set above tilted platforms to provide a sense of movement.

Of the three Japanese designers, Mr. Yamamoto creates the most digestible clothing. He first made a splash by unveiling a collection of women’s fashions based on men’s garments. A double-breasted suit from 1993 exemplifies the masculine-feminine interchange with part of the jacket cut off to emphasize the waist.

Evidencing his masterful cutting and draping techniques is a black dress with a plunging neckline. It looks pretty straightforward until a closer inspection reveals there are no shoulder seams.

The exhibit gets livelier in the main gallery where Mr. Miyake’s designs introduce more sculptural shapes. A standout is a futuristic red dress erupting in horizontal folds in contrast to its vertical pleats. It is a precursor to his more affordable Pleats Please line, which is sold internationally.

Mr. Miyake earned the nickname “cloth sculptor” for creating a garment from a single piece of fabric with slits cut for the head and arms. Another inventive design titled A-POC (a piece of cloth) invites the wearer to cut along perforations on a circle of fabric to create a skirt, belt, bag, gloves and socks.

Miss Kawakubo, who founded the fashion label Comme des Garcons (like the boys), similarly focuses on form and concept but in a more fragmentary way. In the 1980s, she became known for deconstructing her designs with intentional tears, unfinished seams and asymmetrical cuts. One of her dresses in the exhibit features pockets turned inside out; another is modeled on the garments worn under a kimono.

In 1997, she introduced the bump collection to question the very shape of women’s bodies. Padded with lumps on the backs, shoulders and hips, the outfits deformed the silhouette of the wearer.

Other garments designed by Miss Kawakubo challenge femininity through unusual construction. One such outfit attaches a dress to a cardigan sweater in such a way that the sleeve causes the skirt to move with the wearer’s arm gestures.

These seemingly unfinished designs may seem wild and crazy but they have come to influence mainstream fashion. The more mutable garments are practical, too. Rather than being designed for an ideal female body, they acknowledge women come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

WHAT: Contemporary Japanese Fashion: The Mary Baskett Collection
WHERE: Textile Museum, 2320 S St. NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, through April 11
ADMISSION: Free, $5 suggested donation
PHONE: 301/667-0441
WEB SITE: www.textilemuseum.org

Among the unsung heroines of American textile design is Detroit’s Ruth Adler Schnee. During the 1940s and ‘50s, she designed upbeat, patterned fabrics with names like “Slinky Shadows,” “Humpty Dumpty” and “Pits and Pods.”

Current fascination with mid-20th-century modern design has sparked renewed interest in Mrs. Adler Schnee’s work, leading to a cheerful survey of her vibrant work at the University of Maryland’s Kibel Gallery.

Organized by architecture professor Ronit Eisenbach, who runs the gallery, the show is encircled by large hanging samples of fabrics, pattern sketches and a few carpet designs. As described in accompanying texts, inspiration for the lively prints often came from the Detroiter’s surroundings.

“Everything around you is a design, whether it is a leaf, a flower or a stone,” Mrs. Adler Schnee says in a biographical film in the exhibit. “It’s a matter of bringing it down to its essential [form].”

Stratified layers of red rock seen on her honeymoon to the Southwest resulted in the sinuous curves of “Germination.” A trip to sculptor Alexander Calder’s studio influenced the coiled shapes of “Wireworks.” A Manhattan evening scene of starry sky and illuminated windows led to the asterisks and rectangles of “Central Park South,” a sheer fabric used to separate first- and tourist-class seats on airplanes.

Mrs. Adler Schnee originally silk-screened her graphic designs onto rough-textured cotton, but the exhibit only offers a few vintage examples. Most of the 30 textiles on display are recent translations of these same patterns into woven fabrics of far richer colors. They are still being made by Anzea Textiles based in Fort Worth, Texas, and Unika Vaev of Norwich, Conn.

Much more of Mrs. Adler Schnee’s fascinating life and career unfolds in the film, which was produced by Ms. Eisenbach and Michigan-based filmmaker Terri Sarris. This enjoyable biopic tells how the German-born designer and her family fled the Nazis in 1939 to settle in Detroit. The young refugee won a scholarship to Rhode Island School of Design and went on to earn a graduate degree in architectural design at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Between her studies, she worked for renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy on logos for Shell Oil and Coca-Cola. “I never took a textile class in my life, but don’t tell anybody,” Mrs. Adler Schnee says with a laugh in the film.

A 1946 house design, complete with brightly colored draperies, led to her first commissions for fabrics. As a textile designer, she came to collaborate with Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the destroyed World Trade Center towers in New York.

Like Ray Eames, Anni Albers and other female designers, Mrs. Adler Schnee found textiles to be a creative outlet at a time when women were shut out of the professional world. “I knew I wasn’t going to be an architect because they weren’t hiring Jews or women,” she says in the film.

Husband Edward Schnee, who died in 2001, helped to produce the silkscreened fabric designs and choose their names. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the couple ran a store in downtown Detroit specializing in modern furnishings.

Now 86, Mrs. Adler Schnee continues to design textiles for Anzea and interior projects. By focusing on current versions of her past prints, the exhibit stresses the vitality of her work and its relevance to contemporary design.

WHAT: Ruth Adler Schnee: A Passion for Color and Design
WHERE: Kibel Gallery, University of Maryland, Architecture Building 145, College Park
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment; through Jan. 15 (closed from Dec. 21 through Jan. 2)
PHONE: 301/405-8000
WEB SITE: www.arch.umd.edu/kibelgallery

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