Category Archives: Tastemaker

A piece about someone with major aesthetic influence.

SPIKE LEE VISITS FIT TO DISCUSS DO THE RIGHT THING

Director Spike Lee visited FIT recently for an interview following a screening of his 1989 film Do the Right Thing. A frigid February night proved the perfect time to watch a movie that takes place on a scorching-hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Lee said he was inspired to write the script in part because “I noticed that in New York, when it gets above 95 degrees, people lose their minds.”

spikelee

One student said she was impressed with Lee’s stylish UGGs. (He wore them to stay warm in the stadium during the Super Bowl). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, holds the microphone.

The college’s Black Student Union organized the event as part of Black History Month (“the shortest month of the year,” Lee wryly noted). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, greeted a packed house in the Haft Auditorium with the observation, “Black history is everybody’s history in America.”

From a show of hands, a sizable portion of the packed house in the Haft Auditorium had never seen the movie, which has held up beautifully over 25 years. The characters’ artfully crafted hairstyles, eyewear, and Day-Glo-colored outfits (for which Lee credited his costume designer, Ruth Carter) were redolent of the 80s. Still, some current students came similarly attired—and looked pretty chic.

At the climax of the film, a riot erupts. After the screening, one audience member asked whether Lee intended to stir up trouble. Lee answered, unequivocally, no. “That was a criticism of the film—that it was going to incite riots. There was a fear that you’d see the movie and run out and start smashing things. I don’t think Chuck D [of the band Public Enemy] who wrote the song ‘Fight the Power’ for me [it opens the film] was talking about taking up arms. It was more like mental stuff.”

Toward the end of the night, Lee invited students in the audience to talk about the obstacles they faced as they trained for creative careers. Many described their parents’ objections. “My father went to Harvard and my mother went to Columbia, and there’s no way they’ll pay my tuition to study fashion,” a student said. Lee counseled everyone to stick with it. “Parents,” he said, “kill more dreams than anybody.”

Lee revealed that the “Love and hate” speech given by the character Radio Raheem (above) was inspired by a scene in Charles Laughton’s 1955 suspense classic “Night of the Hunter”:

The manager of films for FIT’s student association also helped organize the event.

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.”

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.

THE AMAZING BIL DONOVAN ’78 DRAWS THE AMAZING RALPH RUCCI ’80. UTTER FABULOUSITY ENSUES

There are times in Hue’s life when we are simply overwhelmed by gorgeocity.

This is one of those times.

For Fashion Week, New York magazine asked illustrator Bil Donovan, Fashion Illustration ’78 to sketch some of the shows in traditional pen and ink. They posted the results here.

At the show by Ralph Rucci, Fashion Design ’80, Donovan had his eye on Rucci’s sister, Rosina. Her ecstatic flourish at the end of every Rucci show is designed to inspire the audience. Donovan’s piece captures the siblings at the most dramatic moment:

“Rucci Bow” by Bil Donovan.

Upon seeing the whole collection of drawings, we cried, “Genius!”

Donovan replied: “Don’t know about the genius part but it was so in the moment… And my dread was to have some accident with the ink on my lap, especially at Thom Browne.”

“Thom Browne Hair and Makeup” by Bil Donovan.

See the rest of Donovan’s works for Fashion Week here.