Tag Archives: Guest Speaker

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.”

CHINESE POET VISITS FIT, MAKES METAPHOR OUT OF OYSTERS

The Chinese poet Wang Jiaxin came to FIT yesterday to read from his work and discuss the pleasures of versifying, and of translating and reading poets from around the world. Wang has been called “one of the most important contemporary poets in China,” but Hue is happy to note that he looks almost like a regular guy.

He gave talks and readings, and described what it was like growing up during the Cultural Revolution. In the ’80s he was the editor of a prestigious literary magazine in China, but after the Tiananmen Square tragedy he was relieved of that post (the university had allowed some students to participate in the protest).

Wang said to “pay attention to details” because “poets never give you anything directly.” He described the pleasure of reading Emily Dickinson—“I like her much more than [Walt] Whitman,” he said. He described Dickinson’s poems as “the fruit of longing…very deep.” He read a poem about her, and also this one, which Hue liked a lot:

OYSTERS

Party’s over. On the seaside dining table
a few oysters left,
large, unopened.

Heading back in the car, someone says
“The ones you can’t open
Taste best.”
No one laughs,
no one considers what it means.
At night the surf sounds heaviest.
Through dark pine woods
our car weaves onward.

(Translated from the Chinese by Diana Shi and George O’Connell.)

Hue suspects there’s a metaphor there, and is going to leave it in its shell.

Watch a video of Wang reading at Berkeley with poet Robert Hass here.

Wang was invited to FIT by Jean Amato, an associate professor of English and Speech and a specialist in literature of China and the Chinese diaspora. Wang’s visit was sponsored by the department.

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.