Monthly Archives: November 2013

FIT ILLUSTRATORS REFLECT ON JOHN F. KENNEDY AND MARTIN LUTHER KING

A new show at The Museum at FIT puts a collection of dreams on display. Inspired by two 50-year anniversaries—the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the delivery of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech both took place in 1963—the exhibition features stark images, some hopeful, some less so, by students and faculty from the college’s MFA program in Illustration.

Entitled Dreams Lived/Dreams Shattered: MLK, JFK 50 Years Later, the show includes works that range in media from scratchboard and canvas to pen and ink, clay sculpture, and digital print.

“I like bringing the culture of our times to our work,” said Melanie Reim, chair and associate professor of the program. “It’s important to remember that visual interpretations are potent, powerful ways of assigning a feeling to the written word, and in today’s world the illustrator is more powerful than ever with the combination of media they have at their disposal.”

In order to deepen the students’ understanding of these two seminal events in America’s history, Daniel Levinson Wilk, associate professor, American History, provided background, and Matthew Petrunia, associate professor, English and Speech, followed with the key aspects of great speeches. The students were then asked to interpret the events of half a century ago in any way they chose.

“Islands,” by Bruno Nadalin

Bruno Nadalin used the metaphor of Hurricane Katrina and the rooftops of New Orleans to represent the “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” that Dr. King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Maria Carlucco’s “Marching for Freedom,” above, is also featured in the exhibition.

The show runs until December 7.

HOLIDAY “MAGRITTE-INGS” FROM FIT! (OR, THINGS JUST GOT WEIRD)

The holiday season came early this year at FIT: This week, a Surrealism-themed pop-up shop, “Holiday Bizarre,” touched down in the Pomerantz Center lobby, featuring designer fashions selected from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Thrift Shop—“the Bergdorf of thrift stores,” according to Anne Kong, Display and Exhibit Design ’77, assistant professor of Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design. The shop is open from 12 to 8 through Saturday, November 23, and all profits go to cancer research, education, and patient outreach.

“Thrift store shopping is not just a trend,” Kong said. “With Beacon’s Closet, Housing Works, and Buffalo Exchange, it has become a new channel of retail experience.”

The storefront of “Holiday Bizarre,” created by students in the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design Department. The Merchandising Society is staffing the shop.

The space didn’t pop up out of nowhere. Earlier this year, the MSK Thrift Shop worked with two VPED classes, led by Kong and Adjunct Assistant Professor Mary Costantini, to invent and execute a retail concept to bring secondhand fashion to FIT. One of the classes, on “point of sale,” teaches pop-up shops; the other involves building installations for visual merchandising.

There was no shortage of fun proposals: a gingerbread house, an antique circus, an homage to Bryant Park holiday shops, everything purple, and more. But the Surrealism idea won out for a few reasons. First, it reflected the artistic bent of the School of Art and Design. Second, it didn’t hew to any particular religion. Third, it coincided with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art about René Magritte. Fourth, it had a killer name.

“Originally it didn’t have the name, and I said it needed one,” Kong remembered. “When the students came back with ‘Holiday Bizarre,’ everything changed.”

Shopping at the “Holiday Bizarre” is totally surreal.

The students had three weeks and $4,000 to build it. They crafted a storefront to look like picture frames and made eyeball ornaments out of beach balls. The details are all there, too: hand-printed hang tags, customized shopping bags, a Magritte shower curtain for the changing room, and other surprises.

They also worked with the thrift shop to curate the merchandise for the FIT community. (Net-A-Porter also donated new and slightly damaged pieces.) Considering a pair of Louboutins already went for $550, Hue thinks they got it right.

Update: The final sales tally after five days was a whopping $35,000. Bravo to all involved!

BROOKLYN WRITER DESPERATELY SEEKING AN UNMARRIED IDEA

What’s the hardest part of writing a compelling narrative history? Finding an idea, said Matthew Goodman, author of three nonfiction books, including most recently, Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World (Ballantine Books, 2013). Goodman took some time off from searching for ideas to visit FIT last week, guest-teaching classes and reading from his book.

“It’s not because there aren’t great stories,” he said. “You have to find a good story with a fascinating character. You have to find a story that reveals something larger. It has to never have been done before. And you need thousands of pages of research material to draw from.”

For Eighty Days, he was reading about Nellie Bly, an investigative journalist from the 19th century, when he came across an intriguing sentence, something to the tune of, “In 1889, she raced around the world.”

With a little more research, he discovered that her opponent was an equally compelling heroine, a writer and reporter named Elizabeth Bisland. Not only did the story have a built-in narrative arc (a race around the world to beat the “80 days” laid down in Jules Verne’s novel), but it starred two interesting characters who both wrote memoirs after they made their way back to New York. And there was a larger story about the changing roles of women in the late 19th century.

Author Matthew Goodman signs books for a first-year creative nonfiction class for Presidential Scholars.

For years, he practically lived in the bowels of the New York Public Library, reading everything he could about the era and the race so that he could write a novelistic story without inventing a single detail. “On a good day I’d get a paragraph’s worth of material,” he said. “It started to feel like trench warfare.”

But the challenge of writing it had nothing on the struggle of finding the next big idea. “It feels a little like finding a wife,” he said. “You’re looking and looking and looking. You find ideas, you go on a date with these ideas, and they don’t work out. Or you find out someone has already written it, and it’s like this woman has married someone else.”

Matthew Goodman poses with Professor Amy Lemmon, who invited him to FIT.

AUTHOR FRAN LEBOWITZ DISSES HALSTON, STRAIGHT PEOPLE, AND MEN IN SHORTS

The author, satirist, and professional talker Fran Lebowitz visited FIT last Friday. She submitted, if that’s the right word, to an on-stage interview with Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, as part of a symposium, “A Queer History of Fashion,” which complemented the museum’s show of the same name.

An early moment in the exchange was fraught. Steele asked why Lebowitz refused to lend one of her suits for the show. Everyone leaned forward. Was some personal revelation forthcoming?

Nope. “I didn’t lend you one because I couldn’t live for six months without one of my suits,” Lebowitz said, referring to the length of the exhibition. “I don’t have enough [of them].”

Her career began in the early ’70s at Interview magazine, with Andy Warhol. As a denizen of his demimonde, she met many fashion designers, including Halston. “Halston was not someone I was very interested in,” Lebowitz said. “He was kind of a hick, actually. But he had huge parties, which are always good. His clothes were plastic. They were Ultrasuede, which is polyester, which is plastic.”

Steele asked how Lebowitz ended up on the Best-Dressed list. “People vote for you,” she said. “I’d rather be the mayor.”

Lebowitz has a famously bad case of writer’s block, though she’s quite relaxed—and quotable—in conversation. Steele said one question that kept coming up while preparing the show was why there are so many gay designers.

“Is that even a question?” Lebowitz said. “A better question is, ‘Why are there straight designers?’ Why are there straight men at fashion shows? Can’t something be done about that?”

Later she said that perhaps the correlation had to do with the fact that straight men “could have other jobs. There were few jobs where you could be gay.”

Steele asked if Lebowitz had a fashion bête noire. “To me, shorts,” she said. “I really do not want to see adult men wearing shorts. Ever. They’re suburban. When I see a grown man wearing shorts, I think, ‘You’re going to a cookout.” Baseball caps also draw her ire.

Asked to explain the appeal of leather, Lebowitz replied, “Sex. That’s the appeal. It’s durable. It lasts longer than sex. Which is why, at a certain age, you should give it up. It’s actually sad, at a certain age. It makes me sad. For them, not me.”

For the record, Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard make her suits, but she doesn’t go to London to be fitted. “I’m an Anglophobe,” she admitted. “They have a dress form of me, for sizing. It lives in London, so I don’t have to.” She has very particular tastes. Fabric, for example: “I could spend my entire life choosing fabrics.”  And, “I always ask for light-colored buttons,” a style somewhat against the grain. She’s also demanding about fit. She said, “At the point that a suit no longer fits, you should not go out.”

IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, LEONA WILSON

Hue loves autumn for all its myriad splendors: pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin-scented candles…. But all that pumpkin has to come from somewhere. And as Leona Rocha Wilson, Fashion Design ’72, discovered, they’re not that easy to grow.

Wilson, who lives in Maui, accepted a handful of seeds from the USDA Cooperative Extension System Office, as part of a program to teach local gardeners about the difficulties that farmers face. Those who grew the largest pumpkins would get to display their bounty at the county fair in October, alongside exotic chickens and tropical fruits.

“Across the country, farmers are closing up, digging under, selling to developers,” she says. “When the farmer gives up farming, that soil becomes housing. And somebody has to grow the food that we’re consuming.”

She was already an experienced gardener, growing rare trees called koai’a to sell the wood. She dug 3-by-3-foot holes underneath the trees and planted the seeds in the corners. She kept a journal to track their progress.

Leona Rocha Wilson measures one of her pumpkins.

As soon as the vines began to unfurl their enormous leaves, she worried she had planted them too close. Every day she watched and worried. But each one grew in a different direction. “Even plants want to survive,” she notes, her voice full of wonder. “Their survival skills were amazing.”

Once the pumpkins began to grow, she also had to cope with fruit flies. If a fruit fly stings a pumpkin, she says two things can happen. One, the larvae eat the pumpkin from the inside and the pumpkin implodes. Two of hers “melted” in that way. Sometimes, the flies produce a gas inside the pumpkin, and it blows up! Thankfully, that didn’t happen to her.

From eight seeds, she was able to grow five pumpkins with a combined weight of 500 pounds. After presenting them at the county fair, she donated them to a local church, where they will become pies and roasted pumpkin seeds for Thanksgiving.

Her final conclusions? “It was fun. And now I have an added respect for farmers.”