Friday, September 25, 2009

The Intersection of Art, Architecture and Fashion

Those of you who have been reading our columns since their inception (so long ago!) are probably thinking 'Well, east coast girls are hip. I really dig those styles they wear.'* Some of you, however, might be wondering if we ever discuss anything deeper than our shade of lipstick. So with this entry we'll try to put to rest any doubts.

Several years ago, Valerie, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, and an ardent lover of hats, commissioned a hat in that shape, thinking there was something inherently hat-like about the Guggenheim. For this job, she contacted possibly the only person in the United States who could have done it, the incomparable Ignatius. The hat, very close to anatomically correct (and completely millinarily correct), with a body of pale straw, ties of gossamer, and a skylight of black netting and Swarovski crystals, had its first outing on Easter, 2007 (where it was adored by Europeans and ignored by Americans), and its second on September 20, 2009.

Tradition demands that one not wear white after Labor Day, and by association one should probably not wear straw hats, either. With global warming a fact of life, we thought there must be some leeway in that, though not much. So the hat had to come out now, or not till 2010.

Happily, the wondrous Kandinsky exhibition had started only days before, and we realized in a flash what we needed to do to properly launch the Guggenheim hat and coordinate our outfits. Valerie wore the Guggenheim hat and white Calvin Klein linen suit (the perfect tabula rasa for the occasion). In synch with the architectural theme, Jean wore a ziggurat hat, which topped off a matching Issey Miyake dress and skirt in bright Kandinsky-like colors and mathematical designs on a graph paper grid.

Off we went to the Guggenheim Museum (by good fortune, in a taxi whose roof was high enough for the hat to fit in), where upon alighting, we were immediately mobbed by people who Got It, and wanted to photograph us.

We then got in line to buy our tickets, but when we arrived at Admissions, we were waved through by the cute and savvy young art lovers manning the desks, who also Got It. Our passes said "Staff Guest", so our visit, though barely begun, had already started out on a high note.

Starting at the top of the structure, we worked our way down the Guggenheim's elemental spiral, stopping along the way to accede graciously to demands for photographs (from museum goers and museum staff alike), as if we were celebrities promoting our latest movie. (Readers, we're open to offers!)

Art history buffs among our readers may know that while teaching at the Bauhaus in the early 1920s, Kandinsky formulated a school of thought that associated certain geometric shapes with specific colors. According to his theory, the circle, square and triangle each had its own appropriate primary color, based on the shared characteristics of those colors and shapes (for example, warmth). For readers guessing which color Kandinsky matched with which shape, see below to check your answer.**

Jean's dress and skirt, exuberant with circles, squares and triangles*** in a way seldom seen in fashion, wreak havoc with Kandinsky's theories. They have no red or yellow at all, their circles are green and their triangles are orange. Could this be Japanese sensibilities at work, or simply another case of the new generation rejecting everything the previous generation held dear (as every generation must)?

Photos were taken discreetly throughout the exhibition, but were generously allowed (encouraged?) by the staff on the main floor, and we did not disappoint our public. (Jean especially delighted in the dichotomy of reactions during our downard spiral: While some security staff declared all photos verboten, others posed with us to memorialize the encounter with their own cameras!)

In the interests of full disclosure, it should be said that we are by no means the first to contemplate the interrelationship between art, architecture and fashion. In 2006, Los Angeles MOCA did a wonderful exhibition entitled Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, in which a veritable who's who of architects and fashion designers were represented.**** Unfortunately, that show did not make it to the east coast, so we did our best to compensate for that oversight.

On April 7, 2009, we dashed off to the Van Alen Institute to attend "Soft Geometries: A Conversation with Yeohlee Teng and Calvin Tsao." What started as a public conversation between one of our favorite designers (YEOHLEE inc) and an award-winning architect (Tsao & McKown) on the relationship between fashion and architecture, civic identity and social responsibility, became a fascinating opportunity to exchange ideas with them and other members of the audience. We rubbed shoulders with Kohle Yohannan and complimented him on his impressive collection of Valentina couture, which we'd just seen on display at the Museum of the City of New York last Spring.

We are now trying to decide how best to dress for our upcoming fall inspection of Frank Gehry's gorgeous gift to Chelsea.

Valerie: Ignatius Guggenheim hat, Calvin Klein suit, white linen Sym's shirt, white nubuck and black elastic Arche shoes, H&M bag.
Jean: Vintage 40's hat (orignally from the Blum Store in Philadelphia), Rick Owens T-shirt, Issey Miyake Pleats Please dress and fishtail skirt, Lounge Fly bag, Dansko clogs.

* You might even be humming it to yourself. Seems like it should have a catchy tune to go with it.
** Circle = blue; square = red; triangle = yellow. For more on Kandinsky, check out SmartHistory.
*** (as well as mathematical notations whose accuracy we have not verified)
**** If anyone has an extra copy of the sold-out catalogue, please send it to us!

Post Script, 9/29/09
And this just in: Piet van Dekar of Amsterdam spotted us in front of the Guggenheim, took us back home, and gave us a prominent place at the Rijksmuseum. We're honored and humbled!


  1. Brilliant looks on your Guggenheim excursion, indeed for both you and Jean .
    Frank Lloyd Wright would surely be thrilled.
    Kudos also to Ignatius . Where might one find other works from him and where was Bill Cunningham on that day ?

    Cheers Valerie !