New York Study Trip Archive

Skewed Perspectives

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

While we were studying abroad in Brittany during our third year of high school, some of my American classmates chose to go back home to the U.S. for Thanksgiving—that is, for all of a regular two-day weekend. From six years ago up until today, the very idea of going home for such a short amount of time, under such unusual circumstances, has represented an uncanniness I just can’t properly distill. It approximates being a guest—a visitor, a tourist—in your own home, collapsing two valid but separate realities in a way that simply shouldn’t be. It’s too close to home…and at the same time, too far. 

All of this to say that, personally, our study trip was more than privileged, backstage access to vaults and archives. After living in the city for four years, I experienced a shift, a disconnect, but above all, a sense of being home. This trip served as a reminder, after the tropical misery of last summer, of how novel and timeless and familiar and invigorating New York can be.

Between FIT and Brooklyn Museum visits, I complained about the L train and avoided subway transfers. I made the trip from 103rd St. into downtown Chinatown…several times, in a descent that only needs four words to justify (Nom Wah shrimp dumplings). I lay on my friend’s couch, drinking grapefruit with gin and fighting with her cat. I fell in love with another friend’s new pink velvet couch. I took my cousin out for boba and used up all his bath bombs. I raided my uncle’s attic for my down jacket, forgotten t-shirts and winter sneakers (yes, it’s a thing).

It looks like love, but he is trying to bite my hand.

All the while, I thought about my Courtauld friends’ impressions and experiences. Some had never been to New York; for some, it was the first visit to America. Is it possible to romanticise the MTA, the gritty yellow and 10-minute wait time of the NY subway? Were three days enough time to feel the grid layout, to become familiar with that sense of recalibrating your internal compass at subway exists and on unmarked streets? How American was America? What bars and cafés and thrift shops and hidden gardens did they discover to call their own? Can they communicate the essence of the city? I sure can’t.  

This is the idea: people can look at the same thing and, as individuals, receive it wildly differently. A city can’t be described or defined. It’s the people, memories and associations as they relate to me—or you—that make it up.

So there I was, on a third-floor walk-up on the Upper West Side as the other MAs found their home base in Chelsea. We assembled and separated according to schedule, our rendez-vous lighting up the map of New York’s cultural institutions. 

At the very end of the trip, I brought us together one last time, merging our existences again in the lobby of the New York Times building. My above-mentioned uncle, Marc Lacey, is the national editor, and he has cheerfully hosted groups of my friends at the NYT for the past few years. His talents and achievements as a journalist aside, Marc is a fabulous tour guide: charismatic, approachable, engaging, always ready with the unusual anecdote, dry comment or terrible dad-joke. We attended a morning briefing, gleaned an insider’s view—literally—of the NYT, took premier snapshots of the city skyline, spied a specialist ISIS reporter next to (shut) closets jammed with clothing for fashion reviews and came away with advance copies of the paper. The others returned to London that evening; I went home with Marc.

The MA class, minus your author, in front of a wall of other distinguished NYT guests.

I have been aware for a while of having several places where I feel at home: LA, Brittany, Paris, New York, London. But now, I am realising how strange and exciting it can be to overlap them and stretch their limits. Boundaries are bizarre…

All photos by the author.

A Bonnie Wee Peep into the World of Ms. Cashin

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you.

Bonnie Cashin wearing a traditional Korean gat that she purchased during her travels for the Ford Foundation in East Asia during the 1950s. Additions to image made by the author.

Before this trip to New York, I had never seen any of Bonnie Cashin’s Coach-era sketches. Cashin designed for the luxury accessories brand for a little over a decade whilst maintaining her own sportswear company (1952-1985). She was hired by Coach’s wife & husband duo Miles and Lillian Cahn in 1962 to work collaboratively on the brand’s range of leatherwear accessories. From bucket-scooped ‘carriables’ to practical leather-trimmed ponchos, Cashin became well-known for her unusual combinations of texturally diverse fabrics. Cashin was Coach’s first designer, and I believe her veracious, playful nature as a creative can be most resolutely understood through her quirky sketches. 

As previously mentioned, I had never seen Cashin’s sketches before, and yet during this four-day study trip, I was able to closely examine two collections of her work, from different archives: the Special Collections & College Archives at the Fashion Institute of Technology and at the Brooklyn Museum Fashion and Costume Archive. It was not singularly the drawings that provided me with such entertainment—though bold and thoroughly fun—but also the captions Cashin had devised to sit alongside them. Her words inject the drawings with a splash of campy humour.

Sketch by Bonnie Cashin for Coach, Special Collections & College Archives collection at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Photo by author.

Take, for example, this waifish figure laden with piles of precariously stacked Cashin-Coach handbags, which are seemingly ready to topple from her outstretched arms. In the right top-hand corner of this sketch is the accompanying caption: ‘I just want to steal every Cashin-carry I can put my hands on’.

‘I’d rather wear body bags than body stockings’, sketch by Bonnie Cashin for Coach, Special Collections & College Archives collection at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Photo by author.

In this sketch, like the others I studied, Cashin employs a provocative statement and counterbalances its weight with her own special brand of humour. The term ‘body bag’ holds two meanings—at least to me (!): a bag in which you place a cadaver… or a cross-body bag in which you hold your phone, keys, lip-salve, whatever. The drawing of an in-motion model paired with a quirky caption makes Cashin’s work that much more unique. She has also incorporated her own surname to further instate the mark of her hand within the image. 

I am reminded of the wit that contemporary illustrators, such as Julie Hout, use to poke fun at the commercial fashion industry’s superficial nature. Even though the girls that decorate Hout’s Instagram feed are clumsy, brash and all together horribly scatty, I want to be them, and their parodied inadequacies make them all the more relatable. 

Julie Hout vs. Bonnie Cashin – additions to image made by the author.

This is also true of Cashin’s cluttered mannequin, weighed down by her bags, her indecision and her shopaholic tendencies. I like to think of her illustrative style as a precursor to the current trend of satirical fashion illustrations swarming our Instagram feeds. 

Once again, we defer to you, Bonnie!  

Find amazing images of Cashin’s sketches on FIT’s digital image library: fitdil.fitnyc.edu 

OR through the Brooklyn Museum’s Costume and Textiles Archive Collection:  www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/archives 

An ode to the talents of Julie Hout (@jooleeloren), seriously, follow her! – additions to image made by the author

Jeordy on MoMA and Muriel King

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

Our study trip to New York City was a whirlwind. As a native Californian, it was fascinating to visit a part of the United States I had never seen before in the company of my English classmates. It was a strange in-between state, where I was among my countrymen and women, but in an entirely alien environment, mentality, and culture. Once I overcame the uncanniness and aggressive atmosphere of NYC, I enjoyed myself greatly. Of particular interest were the Good Design Exhibit at MoMA, and the collection of Muriel King’s design sketches.

Wooden Shelving Unit and Chairs, Good Design exhibit, MoMA

‘Good Design is not a label or a price tag
Good Design is international in both origin and appeal
Good Design is a statement and not a gadget
Good Design need not be costly
Good Design is neither a book of etiquette nor a social register
Good Design is one that achieves integrity
Good Design depends on the harmony established between the form of an object and its use.’

The Good Design style of the 1940s and 1950s highlighted function, form and aesthetics. It encompassed the design of everything from coffee pots to the Fiat car. I was fascinated to see exhibits like the one above, which contextualised midcentury clothing for me.

Muriel King sketches, 1930s, FIT Special Collections Archive

Sketches by American designer Muriel King also caught my attention. Muriel King became a name-known designer in the 1930s; she designed for films and socialites alike, including the notorious fashionista Hattie Carnegie. I find her designs remarkably imaginative and modern, even by today’s standards. Our guide at the archive informed us that Muriel King had no knowledge of sewing or pattern making, thus necessitating that she sketch both the front and back of each outfit as to express her deigns with the utmost clarity. Our guide also suggested that her originality and creativity derived from her said lack of sewing knowledge, as she was not intimidated by complex or challenging designs.

Muriel King sketches, 1930s, FIT Special Collections Archive

I took pictures of dozens of these sketches, in the vain hope that I may one day have the resources to have them made up for myself. How many vibrant and boldly patterned dresses can I have before it’s too many?

 

All photographs taken by author.

More information on Good Design: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/5032?locale=en

Our Visit to Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

China Chic: East Meets West

One of my favourite parts of our study trip to New York was spending the day at FIT, where we explored their collections, met with their amazing staff and visited two temporary exhibitions: Fabric in Fashion, which looked at how textiles affect the silhouette of 250 years of Western fashion, and Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT. Exhibitionism was a fabulous and fascinating show that reflected upon some of the museum’s most groundbreaking exhibitions over the last fifty years. Not only did it spotlight some incredible pieces in their collection, both historical and contemporary, but also gave insight into the curatorial thought process. I loved the self-reflexive nature of the exhibition, where objects were grouped by how they were used in past shows. The text panels accompanying various exhibits explained the nature of each show and what curators were attempting to explore. This framing was particularly helpful, as we’re currently working on our Virtual Exhibitions for our MA course, and Exhibitionism essentially mapped out the thought process and approach taken by curatorial and academic all-stars like Valerie Steele. It also introduced me to the work of curators with whom I wasn’t familiar, including Emma McClendon, who we then had the pleasure of meeting as she shared some of FIT’s couture collection with us! Furthermore, it taught me a lot about the goals of the institution to maintain an academic approach in their focused and thoughtful exhibitions, and its role as a teaching museum.

Gothic: Dark Glamour

It was also fun to walk through and catch glimpses of past exhibitions which I hadn’t seen, including Gothic: Dark Glamour from 2009 and China Chic: East Meets West (1999). The labels accompanying each object also listed other shows that they had been used in, highlighting the various ways one garment can be interpreted. The exhibition as a whole was spectacular, visually appealing and cohesive, despite the vast range of objects included. The introductory wall text mentioned how this exhibition helps look towards the museum’s future by reflecting on the past: a sentiment that I think is so vital to considering how fashion collections operate, and to thoughtfully growing and changing as an institution.

Gowns from Madame Grès: Sphinx of Fashion and American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion

Lily’s New York Highlights

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

This was my first trip outside Europe, which was exciting in itself. I enjoyed taking long walks and exploring the city on foot; the walk from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village was especially interesting for the variety of architecture that we saw. I also liked seeing the embroidery samplers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as such pieces are not often displayed in museums, and it was interesting to read about the historic role of embroidery in girls’ schooling.

Open knit evening dress, circa 1810, The Museum at FIT

At The Museum at FIT, my favourite exhibit was an open knit evening dress from England, ca. 1810, featured in the Fabric in Fashion exhibition. Its cut was typical of the period, but the open knit rendered it a striking take on the Regency trend for sheer fabrics. Upstairs, in the FIT Special Collections, I liked leafing through copies of Rags magazine from 1970. They featured some clever fashion advertisements aimed at counterculture youth, and I found the coded classifieds for New York tattooing services (illegal in the city from 1961-1997) particularly interesting.

Countercultural fashion advertisement in Rags, 1970, FIT Special Collections

Another memorable feature of the New York trip – albeit for different reasons – was the sub-zero temperatures and biting winds. In fact, when I returned to London, my first thought upon alighting the plane was that the temperature here felt practically tropical in comparison.

Athleisure in NY

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

I have been living in London since September, but I am from Canada. So when our class travelled to New York for our study trip last week, for me, it was sort of like going home. I was excited to once again see familiar stores and restaurant chains, as they are part of my native landscape of home comforts. However, now that I think back on our trip, it turns out, surprisingly, that it wasn’t these North American landmarks that made me feel right at home: it was how people dressed. (Maybe not that surprising, come to think of it, for a student of fashion history.) Seeing the way people in New York dress – head-to-toe black athleisure – meant I was back!

 For those of you who are not familiar with the term, athleisure is a style of dress characterised by body-con, athletic-inspired clothing. It became increasingly popular beginning around 2000 as advancements in athletic-wear fabrics stimulated the creation of new light-weight, flexible, high performance and fashion-forward sports garments. Brands like Lululemon are credited for having sparked the trend that has been considered the most important fashion trend of the twentieth century. According to Forbes, the American athleisure industry is worth $44 billion.[1]

All images taken from the official Instagram account of Michi New York (a women’s athletic wear brand)

The question that begs to be asked is: is athleisure really is just a trend? Did the American appeal for versatility and practicality really spawn from athletic-wear brands that launched in the late 90s?

The visits we made to the Parsons, Fashion Institute of Technology and Brooklyn Museum archives would lead me to argue that, in fact, a preference for practical clothing attests to a distinctive American pragmatic attitude to dress that goes back to the first half of the twentieth century. We got to see sketches from various American designers, and it was interesting to see that underpinning their aesthetic were definite links to this established American taste for understated practical clothing. In fact, during the 1930s, Claire McCardell – one of the most influential American designers of the time – was already designing functional sportswear for women.

When I moved to London, it hit me that my ‘go-to’ North American uniform of Lululemon leggings and hoodies, which at home made me blend in with every other college student on my campus, actually made me look extremely underdressed and out of place on the chic streets of London. I was on an entirely different register from the sophisticated, tailored, colourful London look.

Therefore, interestingly, New York made me realize that while personal style may be specific to each person, it is definitely influenced to a certain extent by the surrounding fashion culture.

References: Wilson, Chip. ‘Why the Word “Athleisure” is Completely Misunderstood.” Forbes. April 18, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chipwilson/2018/04/18/why-the-word-athleisure-is-completely-misunderstood/#1c5aa6564697.

New York, New York

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

This trip was my first visit to New York and sneakily coincided with my birthday (nobody was allowed to forget this). We celebrated by walking in Central Park, visiting a rooftop bar with plastic igloos, as well as another bar with live music, including questionable renditions of Oasis.  

A highlight was seeing sketches by Bergdorf Goodman staff artists of couture designs, which represented clothing available to order at their custom salon. These sketches were made between 1950-69 and are from the FIT archives. I was in awe of the Dior sketches, particularly a beige ballgown with sparkling embellishment.  

SPARKLE

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was another highlight, as that day was clear, bright and just a tad freezing. It also gave me a different view of Manhattan, with the skyscrapers in front of me rather than surrounding me. My flatmates had given me a pink, felty bucket hat not just because it averaged –1 degrees in New York, and but also to take pictures with at appropriate New York landmarks. I took full advantage of this. 

Bucket hat bonanza on the Brooklyn Bridge

XOXO

On our last afternoon, we rushed over to the Met to overload ourselves with a last dose of some of art’s greatest hits. We also gleefully overfilled some frozen yoghurt pots with allllll the toppings before realising the price was calculated by weight. With half an hour to go before we needed to leave, I saw a postcard of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X and decided I had to see her. I rushed off to the second floor and ended up on the opposite side of the building, and when I got to the connecting room, it was closed. Eventually I managed to go a different way, running through the Temple of Dendur. With its floor-to-ceiling windows and fountain, the calm space contrasted with my frantic run-walking. I eventually found Madame X, just as I realised I had two minutes to get back to the others. Even though I nearly jeopardised our airport timings, it was a great end to the trip. 

The Temple of Dendur room

The scandalous Madame X

Daisy on NYC’s Modern Art

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

One of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip to New York was visiting the city’s many amazing museums and galleries, and NYC did not disappoint! The Modern and Contemporary galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art absolutely blew me away. They have an incredible collection of works by Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, which really complement the beautiful collection at The National Gallery in London. Having seen Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at The National, it was amazing for me to see how he depicted similarly vivid colours in Irises and Roses, both of which were painted whilst he was a patient at the asylum at Saint-Rémy. One of my favourite finds was a wall label for Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Pears, which detailed how he once proclaimed ‘with an apple I want to astonish Paris’. The Met also has a brilliant array of works by American artists, which you rarely get to see on permanent display in Britain. Having never seen a painting by Jackson Pollock or a Mark Rothko before (except in photographs) I now feel that I am a fully qualified expert! 

Left to right: Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1890, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and Pears, ca. 1891-92, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Having written an essay on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the third year of my BA, I couldn’t wait to see the original at MoMA. On my way to the Cubism rooms, I passed by Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, van Gogh’s Starry Night and a Water Lilies series by Claude Monet – just to mention just a few!  Often seen as the first truly Cubist painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is monumental in real life, nearly filling the large gallery walls and attracting a huge crowd. It is interesting to observe in galleries how everyone (myself included) gathers around the most ‘famous’ pieces, but, while I loved seeing the famous names, it was almost more exciting to see and love work by artists I had never previously heard of. I feel like I only scratched the surface of what New York has to offer – The Met is absolutely vast – and definitely feel that I now have a valid excuse to make a return trip to explore further. 

Left to right: Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, MoMA.
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889, MoMA.
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-26, MoMA.