Three Coats in Museum Exhibitions

Clothes provide a protective layer between the body and the outside conditions. The following coats were seen recently in exhibitions in New York and respond to the notion of coats as a protective membrane between the human body and the outside weather conditions, as well as something the body lives in. The following ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’ (Norma Kamali, 1973/2017), ‘Self-Contained Housing’ (Daniel Durning, c.1982) and the ‘Security Blanket Coat’ (Bonnie Cashin, 1972) also comment on issues of housing and lifestyle through their self-conscious titles and the materials in which they are made from and the exhibitions they are shown in.

Photograph of ‘Self-Contained Housing’ Daniel Durning, designed c.1982

Daniel Durning’s ‘Self-Contained Housing’, a coat, hat and slippers ensemble, was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art as part of their Club 57: Film, Performance, and
Art in the East Village, 1978–1983
exhibition (October 2017 – April 2018). By recycling found fiberglass insulation and plastic sheeting for this piece and titling it ‘self-contained housing’ Durning amusingly aligns the body with the home, and was made in 1982 to respond to the way artists were living in unheated loft spaces in New York in the eighties in scenes like ‘Club 57’. This piece reminded me of Final Home’s 1994 coat that was designed by Kosuke Tsumara after spending several nights sleeping rough in New York City which features up to 40 pockets that can be stuffed with material to insulate the wearer in the face of a natural or man-made disaster.

Photograph of ‘Security Blanket Coat’, Bonnie Cashin, designed 1972.

Photograph of newspaper clipping from WWD May 1972.

Going uptown and back in time, Bonnie Cashin’s ‘security blanket’ coat from 1972 was exhibited at Mod New York (November 2017 – April 2018) at the Museum of the City of New York. The mohair coat features a check plaid pattern that resembles the traditional material of a blanket, and the loose draping of the body, deep armholes and the fact it covers the whole body even further align it with the kind of warmth and protection one may use a blanket for when indoors keeping warm. This coat by Cashin, who was the first hired designer for Coach, takes an idea of comfort indoors to outside and onto the streets as outerwear. This design then follows the preoccupation with comfort and simplicity of design in American Sportswear that Cashin was known for and which is intrinsically linked with the post-war fashion design in New York in the 40s and 50s that challenged traditional design much like imaginative and diverse designs of the ‘Mod’ 1960s.

Photograph of ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’, Norma Kamali, designed 1973, manufactured 2017.

Norma Kamali’s ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’ (1973) was featured in The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?  (October 2017-Janurary 2018) and like Cashin’s ‘Security Blanket’ it features a wrap-around design and a material reference to comfort and sleep, as opposed to Durning’s ‘Self Contained Housing’ that uses the actual infrastructure of the home for a garment. The idea of the coat came to Kamali during a camping trip when she wrapped her sleeping bag around her body to run to the bathroom. This backstory contextualises the coat with the camping holiday trend of the 70s that continues today and considers how clothing can be transitory and practical like a sleeping bag. This interplay between fashion and the functional object – here, the sleeping bag, but also wall insulation in Durning’s case or a traditional mohair blanket in Cashin’s – shows how designers were taking inspiration from a concern with survival, protection, sleep and innovation of materials not necessarily associated with fashion design, and creating space for innovative runway designs like Maison Martin Margiela’s duvet coat in 1999 or Viktor and Rolf’s fantastical bed dress in 2005.

By Evie Ward