Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art

Some of you know that I have an imaginary clothing line called ArctiCouture. One of my artist dreams is to fuse repurposed felted wool sweaters with a northern aesthetic to create clothing that is kind to the environment, looks good on the body, and actually makes sense in a sub-arctic climate. I make progress on this idea in starts and stops.

The other day, I saw that the American Folk Art Museum was exhibiting its own notion of couture called Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art. They invited 13 established and emerging designers to create original ensembles inspired by artwork in the museum’s collection.

Each artist selected one or more objects to be inspired by. For example designer Fabio Costa selected a weathered religious wood craving and a 1796 white cotton quilt to inspire his final creation.

Costa_02Costa_04Costa_03Gary Graham selected an early nineteenth-century coverlet as the inspiration for his Jacquard-engineered coat-dress ensemble. I have got to say that this is hands down my favorite. He individually wove fabric for each pattern piece to the garment, changing the shape and size of the print so that it moves across the body.

Graham_02-1Graham_03In fact, I like it so much I made something very similar but not nearly as spectacular last year.

IMG_2202Maria ShellWhile four of the artists selected quilts and one selected lace for their points of creative departure, the rest used non-textile based inspirations. For example, John Bartlett used a painted wood figure to inspire his creation.

Bartlett_02Bartlett_03I enjoyed viewing this exhibit online. What would have made it even better would have been the ability to see close-ups of each piece.

The exhibit made me think which is always a good thing. And that thinking resulted in some questions that maybe you can help me answer.

Do you think it would be easier to design a garment inspired by a textile, or would it be easier to design a garment not based on a textile? All in all, I think the ones inspired by textiles were more successful. But the success could be about the designer and the not inspiration. If I were given this challenge, I probably would have chosen a non-textile, but having seen the exhibit (virtually at least) I would now pick a textile.

I am always a little vexed when I see fashion that is not wearable. If it is not wearable how is it fashion, or couture for that matter?

I also think it is interesting that each of the 13 designers are clearly present on the American Folk Art website, but only two of the objects of inspiration have an artist’s name attached to them. And of course, neither of those objects are quilts. What do you think about? I know it seems so full ego to sign your work; but, you know, people of the future will appreciate it if you do.

I hope you will check the exhibit out and let me know what you think. Let’s chat.

This entry was published on March 20, 2014 at 2:54 PM. It’s filed under Art in Place, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

10 thoughts on “Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art

  1. Kerri Green on said:

    Hi Maria – I just went to the Folk Art website and scrolled through. So fun and interesting! If I was a younger person (with hindsight) I would love to design clothes. That jacquard machine was way-cool!

    • Kerri- I know. I love that he elevated the project in the way that he did.And the patterning is just fabulous. You can still design clothes. We are only at the half way mark anyway.

  2. Nysha on said:

    I think what is inspiring is inspiring separate from the skill of the maker to execute the vision developed from the inspiration.
    As well, fashion is fashion some is wearable and usable and others not — kind of like quilted work, some is utilitarian and others not… Just media people work in!
    Love your writing and sharing if your thoughts. Thanks so much for a years plus of motivation and inspiration!

    • Good point Nysha. It is a medium. As a viewer I am draw to what can actually be worn, but I get what you are saying–the artist has free reign with the medium. I respect that.

  3. Sue Tague on said:

    Gary Graham’s piece could have been inspired by your quilts.I would love to see you make a garment made from your geometric quilt pieces, modifying the quilt pieces to fit the pattern you used in the top you showed here as your favorite.

  4. I think by choosing a textile for inspiration the designer runs the risk of trying to copy the textile in the garmet rather than using it as a starting point. At least, that’s a risk I would run, and I would likely choose a textile rather than non-textile art. As to your other question, if the artists of the inspiration pieces were known, they absolutely should have been included in the final presentation. To not do so is shameful.

    • I think you are right and that is why more of the designers choose non-textile objects, and I would probably do the same. I think the reason the fine craft artists names were not mentioned is that they are not known which so often happens with craft. And that is a shame too, and why I encourage people to document their work. Thanks Sharry for stopping by!

  5. Hi,
    I was fortunate enough to see this exhibition in person. I blogged some thoughts about it if you are interested 🙂

    • Great post Leslie! Your photos were better than the ones on the website. Thank you so much for sharing that. Fabio’s wooden daggers look great behind his piece.

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