Monday, July 4, 2011

Love. Loss. Wore.

At a 2009 symposium at the National Gallery of Art, Stephen J. Brooke, Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, spoke about the people in Bill Brandt’s photos and mentioned “dress as a signifier of class.”

Dress today is a signifier of a different sort of class: poise, confidence, behavior as opposed to social station. I also mean those who are in a class by themselves, using fashion (couture—haute or not) to project an image, story, or fantasy.


"Savage Beauty," The Met Museum’s homage to the late Alexander McQueen, immersed me (and throngs and throngs of other beauty-seekers) in imagination, mythology, and some pretty heavy duty themes. What struck me was the combination of superb command of craft and materials (Gaga’s meat dress wasn’t in the show, but a gown enhanced with live flowers was in its beauty-that-must-die glory).

McQueen’s shows seemed like performance art, with his work as costumes in his runway collections/dramas. I loved the dress that was spray-painted by robots while worn by a model on a turntable as well as a gown made of shells. The Japanese ensembles are extraordinary in their fabrics and craftsmanship.

The house of McQueen sponsored this sadly astounding homage to the bright light who snuffed himself out.

Images are screenshots from video narrated by Metropolitan Museum curator Andrew Bolton.


Somewhere, I read about Patti Smith's strong sense of fashion. I had reckoned that whoever wrote about Patti Smith’s style meant the skinny jeans or white shirts made iconic by Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos. Wrong.

In her poetic, brilliant, bittersweet Just Kids, Patti Smith describes a number of her outfits. If dress is a signifier of class; it can also be a signifier of someone being in a class by herself, not to mention memories, events, or seeking and ultimately finding a style.

These snippets below, about outfits, are supporting details in Smith’s tribute to her extraordinary life with Mapplethorpe (who suggested she wear a white shirt for the Horses cover shoot). For the bigger vision, it’s worth reading the book.
“I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish . . . “ [Oddly, weeks before reading Just Kids, I almost tossed out a 1970s paperback of East of Eden but kept it. Now, I’ll skim it to see what makes an “East of Eden outfit"].
Paperback page 105.

“We had never been robbed before, and Robert was upset not only about the expensive camera, but about what it indicated: a lack of safety and invasion of privacy. I mourned the loss of the motorcycle jacket because we had used it in installations. . . . The thief was possibly daunted by my mess but did steal the outfit I had worn to Coney Island on our anniversary in 1969. It was my favorite outfi, the one in the picture . . . ” [on the frontispiece of the book].
Paperback page 207.

“The stars were lining up to enter the Ziegfeld Theatre for the glittering premier of the Film Ladies & Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones. I was excited to be there. I remember it was Easter and I was wearing a black velvet Victorian dress with a white lace collar. Afterward, Lenny and I headed downtown, our coach a pumpkin our finery tattered . . . “
Paperback page 239.

“Wishing to add a guitar line that could represent the desperate desire to be free, we chose Tom Verlaine to join us. Divining how to appeal to Tom’s sensibilities, I dressed in a manner that I thought a boy from Delaware would understand: black ballet flats, pink shantung capris, my kelly green silk raincoat, and a violet parasol . . .” Paperback page 241.

“[Robert Mapplethorpe says] You know, I really like the whiteness of the shirt. Can you take the jacket off?”
“I flung my jacket over my shoulder, Frank Sinatra style. I was full of references. He was full of light and shadow.
. . . He took twelve pictures that day. . . .
When I look at it now, I never see me. I see us.”
Paperback page 251.

“I wrote the poem for his memorial card as I had done for Sam Wagstaaff. On the twenty-second of May, Fred and I attended the service at the Whitney Museum. Fred wore a suit of indigo gabardine with a burgundy tie. I wore my Easter dress of black silk velvet with a white lace collar. . . .”
Paperback page 288.

Pluck. Kindness. Loyalty. Love. Strength. Perseverance. Collaboration. Costume.
“Savage Beauty.” Worth the wait. Just Kids. Worth the read.

Just Kids, Patti Smith. Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.


Suzanne Dell'Orto said...

I haven't seen the Alexander McQueen show yet, but I'm inspired. Is the top photo a dress made of razor clam shells?

But I did read the Patti Smith memoir, and I too, was struck by how "fashionable" she was and how much she thought/thinks about how she looked/looks! And I agree—it was an utterly charming read.

Beth Tondreau said...

Yes. Razor clam shells. Amazing, isn't it? There's no comparison, but I saved a year's-worth of plastic coffee lids and I'm thinking of making a layered top or dress as a combination of McQueen inspiration and costume commentary of my 2010 year at the coffee cart run by Shams from Afghanistan.

How amusing to read that a book by Patti Smith is "charming."


Suzanne Dell'Orto said...

Extended Patti Smith review: An incredibly sweet and generous, deceptively easy to read, whip-smart memoir of the relationship of Patti Smith and artist Robert Mapplethorpe set against the New York City of the late 60's/early 70's.

(But really, it's charming! New dirty! So gritty! I feel a musical number coming on...!)

Beth Tondreau said...

Your review is brilliant. Time for you to digitally scribble squibs for Time Out.

Yeah. Charming in the true sense. The story is the stuff of musicals, isn't it? Rent already did downtown Boheme, but the tale is evergreen (love, friendship, struggle, fame).