Category Archives: Extracurricular

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.”

JOHN VARVATOS WEARS GREAT BOOTS, TALKS ROCK STAR STYLE

John Varvatos, one of the world’s best-known menswear designers, came to FIT the other day to discuss and show slides from his new book, Rock in Fashion. It’s a smashing compilation of the coolest looks from classic rock bands, and also serves as his design inspiration notebook. The book’s title is something of a misnomer though, because, as Varvatos pointed out, he’s more interested in style than fashion: “Style for me is how you carry yourself. Fashion passes, style evolves.”

Check out the boots!

Winner of three awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, including Best Menswear Designer, Varvatos is famous for designing sneakers without laces for Converse. He wore brown boots with side-button detailing and was demonstrating his unique way with a scarf. His conversation was all about rock stars, mostly acts he loved from the late ’60s-early ’70s, when he was growing up in Detroit—Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, Patti Smith, Keith Richards. Of Lou Reed, who died the day before, Varvatos said, “Lou was somebody who pushed the boundaries every day of his life, musically and stylistically.”

In general, Varvatos prefers bands with a consistent look over chameleons who change their appearance with each new album. There was one notable exception: David Bowie. Hue’s managing editor, Alex Joseph MA ’13, who introduced Varvatos and conducted the interview, asked whether he thought menswear tended to be more resistant to change than women’s wear. Varvatos seemed to think it did. With menswear, he said, “It’s all about the great details—the finesse, the little hidden treasure. Great fabrics, fit, and leathers.”

Appearances are paramount for rock stars. That conclusion seemed inarguable from the photographs Varvatos showed of performers like Sly Stone, Rod Stewart and The Faces, and The New York Dolls. Even if they play great music at a concert, the designer remarked, “If they’re only wearing shorts and T-shirts, it’s not as great.”

In a short question-and-answer session after the interview, a student asked about the future for menswear. “Menswear is evolving faster than ever before in its history,” Varvatos said. “Women’s wear is getting stale. Men’s has much more newness.”

ARTIST WILLIAM WEGMAN VISITS FIT, UNLEASHES HIS IDEAS

The artist William Wegman came to FIT last night, bringing engaging slides of his work but, alas, none of the Weimaraner dogs he’s so famous for photographing. Wegman visited as part of a series organized by the college’s photography department, and presented the very image of a working artist, with rumpled gray hair and a blue checked shirt.

Wegman loves to create, and his work fits generally into the category of surrealism, though he said, surprisingly, that Norman Rockwell was an early influence. Wegman paints and makes sculpture and videos, but he’s most famous for his dog pictures:

Like so much of his career, as Wegman tells it, the discovery of photography was fortuitous, almost an accident.  In the mid-’60s he took his first photograph. It was of salami. “That’s still my best photo,” he said, with evident irony.

Painters Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha collected his early photographs, which Wegman initially used to document his performance art.  An early series of photos featuring the Weimaraner Man Ray, Wegman said, “is kind of like a Sol LeWitt painting, but with a dog.” By the late ’70s, he said, “my photography began to be dominated by Man Ray, who loved to work.” A few years after Man Ray died, Wegman got another dog, Fay Wray. “She almost demanded to work,” he said. “She looked right into the lens.” He later made videos of the dogs for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street. Here’s one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_IFN4lh59Y

 

A surprising sense of playfulness, of low-key spontaneity and experimentation, characterized the talk. “I would never think these pictures through beforehand,” he said. “They weren’t planned.” At one point, a student asked what lens he used to photograph the dogs. “I don’t know,” Wegman replied. “I’m not a photographer.”

Wegman with FIT Photography faculty Jessica Wynne, who organizes the Photo Talks series.

HUE GETS REALLY REALLY CLOSE TO 35,000 BEES

In the latest issue of Hue, Nick Parisse, Photography and the Digital Image ’09, takes readers on a tour of his beehive. Flip through the issue online here; the bee feature appears on page 14-15.

Hue got up close and personal with the bees over the summer. Check out this video by Alex Joseph, Hue‘s managing editor, as, bare-handed (!!), he goes “into the hive” with Parisse. Note: Turn up the volume on your speakers to hear dialogue at the beginning.)

Watch as, at approximately 1:30, Parisse taps 30 bees onto his bare hand. And, at about 2:50, a special appearance by the queen bee herself!

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Lexi Parisse, Fashion Design ’09, who owns her own green fiber business, can also be glimpsed, standing at a safe remove.

And here’s a mesmerizing closeup video of Nick’s bees. The queen has a yellow dot painted on her back.

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These bees are amazing creatures, but Hue will probably wait in the car next time.