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What is American Style?

Calvin Klein, Patricia Fields (with a little help from the Sex in the City), Sean Jean? Or is it blue jeans, football jerseys, doc martins and baseball caps?  Or maybe still it is vintage coupled with couture, topped off with something you bought at the last DIY fair?

The first weekend of December, Niloo Paydar, Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts and I traveled to New York for the Fashion Institute of Technology’s annual symposium, entitled American Style. The symposium was hosted in conjunction with the exhibition American Beauty, Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion, on view until April 10, 2010 at the Museum of FIT.

Kleibacker on stage at FIT with his model, photo taken by me

Oh! And there is a catalogue too!!

The conference addressed many facets of what one might deem “American Style.” Professor Van Dyk Lewis spoke about Hip-Hop fashion while Holly George Warren, the former editor for Rolling Stone magazine, gave an insightful lecture on what she affectionately called “Cowboy Couture.” *I am enraptured with Manuel, by the way.  While the last lecture discussing American sub-cultural styles, was presented by David Colman on the phenomenon of Prep revival. And… we all know someone who is doing this, whether it involves popped collars or cardigans, everyone knows someone with just a little bit of Preppy in them.

The two talks I found most interesting, were presentations on Claire McCardell vs. Valentina and Mr. John.  The first, The Small Town Girl and the Femme Fatale: Clare McCardell and Valentina succinctly presented by Kohle Yohannan was delightfully informative. Mr. Yohannan presented a thoroughly researched and relevant comparison of two female designers who blazed similar trails to success utilizing very different approaches. McCardell kept her price point low and her materials realistic, while Valentina’s were exorbitant, utilizing only the most luxurious materials. However, both women frequently (in the case of Valentina, solely) modeled their own clothes and shared many of the same elite clientele.

The second, Mr. John, the Mad Hatter, was a presentation I was excited to hear before arriving in NYC. You see, the IMA has a relatively large and extensive hat collection, and we are lucky to have hats designed by Mr. John who also worked under the label John Fredrics.

hat by Mr. John (Designer)

The presentation was informative and full of lively images of Mr. John, his salon and the presenter, Assistant Curator of Accessories at FIT, Coleen Hill, amused her audience with quips about the milliner, his design philosophy and customers. Rounding out the symposium were discussions with designers, Yeohlee, Christian Cota, and the late Charles Kleibacker.

Mr. John at home (via Coleen Hill’s presentation)

In hindsight, I am most thankful for the opportunity to see Mr. Kleibacker give his draping demonstration on a live model while discussing personal milestones. Here is his favorite image, a Kleibacker dress featured in Vogue, 1965.

(via Mr. Kleibacker’s presentation)

After two days of taking it all in, I spent Sunday with friends in Brooklyn (stylists, one for J. Crew and the other with Ralph Lauren).  Over breakfast, we discussed what I had learned and we continued to challenge each other’s notions of “American Style” all the way to Beacon’s Closet. As I am rummaging around, elbows deep in second-hand winter coats, I bump into the woman next to me, only to realize that I am excusing myself to Cynthia Nixon who’s with her teenage daughter foraging for roller skates.

How’s that for American Style?

via Coleen Hill’s presentation

Filed under: Design, Travel

3 Responses to “What is American Style?”

  • avatar
    hobo bag Says:

    I like that hat,also your blog. Good job!

  • avatar

    What is American Style? Can it be characterized as one form, one look, one “style”? Or does American Style embody a variety of designs? As we travel the country attending trade shows, the answer is clear: Americans are not a homogenous bunch. Regional variety is the rule.

    Just as regional variety affects attitudes about everything from soda pop to politics, American attitudes toward decorative accessories vary across the country. From region to region, the American people are diverse, interesting and unique. And so are their design styles, including beach, southern, country, western, southwestern and urban – each with its own distinct character evoking the local flavors of different regions of the country.

  • avatar
    r4 Says:

    Nice blog, it looks so good

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