On Time in Scrapbooks

By Alexander Nagel, Thursday, May 19, 2022

ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION is the first entirely AHMP senior student class curated exhibition at the FIT Gladys Marcus Library on the State University of New York’s campus in downtown Manhattan. The Art History and Museum Professions program developed out of a Visual Arts Certificate program in the early 2000s. Today, many AHMP alumni are successful curators, archivists, educators, and writers.

Inspired by the many holdings related to Greece throughout the FIT campus collections, we began research for this exhibition in January 2022. It became quickly evident that there are actually so many exciting archives, materials and stories related to Greek speaking designers, Greek illustrators, Greek influencers and writers in our Museum at FIT and in our Special Collections and College Archives.

Pre-internet, physical photographs and illustrations were an easy and affordable way to circulate and share ideas and inspirations for young designers. Scrapbooks with postcards and photographs cut out from books and magazines were one way to appreciate and learn about other people and cultures around the world since collecting actual fashion designer’s work for the campus displays in a more organized way did not began in a more organized way until 1969. These early FIT Scrapbooks speak to us in understanding past methods of class-room education in Manhattan, as photographs and archives mattered then as they do today.

Fig. 1 Scrapbook by an unknown artist with a photograph cut out from the magazine In Greece. Quarterly. On display at ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION in Spring and Summer 2022.

According to a handwritten note, the photograph in this scrapbook compiled by an FIT educator or designer in the 1960s is an illustration cut out a from a magazine In Greece. Quarterly, though no year is given. “Men dancing in traditional Greek costume” is the title of a photograph by Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari, better known as “Nelly” (1899–1998). Nelly’s photographs, especially those portraying people dancing, gained great popularity in the 1930s and later, and she inspired entire generations of photographers. Born in Aydin, now part of Turkey, and spending years in Athens in Greece and in Dresden in Germany, she first arrived in New York City in 1939 with an official mission to assist in overseeing parts of the decoration of the Greek pavilion for a World Fair in Queens.

This is when Nelly’s love affair with New York City began. Soon thereafter, she began photographing sites, people, and events in New York City. One series of photographs featured the New York Easter Parade, a tradition particularly important for Greeks. Nelly owned a Studio on 57th Street close to Central Park and lived in New York City for over 34 years before she died back in Athens in Greece in 1998. Many of her photographs, including some she shot in New York City, were later donated to the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece. The photograph in the FIT scrapbook displayed connects us to the legacy of a photographer who is not uncontroversial today as is her influence and legacy as a photographer of inter-war Greece.

Fig. 2 Scrapbook Bialo Archive Greece. Scrapbook at the FIT Gladys Marcus Library.

Sometimes there are other stories that develop from engaging with a scrapbook collection and archives such as those housed at FIT. In some cases, the name of the person who compiled the scrapbook is even known. This is the case with a series of little scrapbooks compiled by artist Deirdre Bialo. One scrapbook contains sets of cut out photographs and postcards from Greece. It contains, among many other items a commercial postcard of the painting Οι Πρόσφυγες (“The Refugees”) by Greek artist Theodoros Rallis (1852–1909). Would it not be interesting to sometimes go back in time and listen to the conversations of those who painted, to those who later photographed, those who distributed the photographs and compiled these in scrapbooks?

Fig. 3 Postcard of the painting “The Refugees” by Greek painter Theodoros Rallis (1852–1909), included in the Bialo Archive Scrapbook Greece at the FIT Gladys Marcus Library.

Further Reading

Damaskos, Dimitris and Dimitris Plantzos, eds. 2008. A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece (Athens, Benaki Museum), esp. “The Uses of Antiquity in Photographs by Nelly: Imported Modernism and Home-Grown Ancestor Worship in Inter-War Greece,” The full volume is accessible online here.

Degirmenci, Erol. 2022. “The Queen of Neoclassical Photography: Nelly.” Daily Art Magazine. March 27, 2022.

FioRito, Taylor, Allie Geiger and Clay Routledge. 2020.Creative Nostalgia: Social and Psychological Benefits of Scrapbooking,” Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 38.2: 98–103.

Markessinis, Andreas. 2016. The Greek Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Pelekys.

Vogeikoff-Brogan, Natalia. 2021. “The Transatlantic Voyage of a Greek Maiden,” From the Archivist’s Notebook Blog, April 17, 2021.

Zacharia, Katerina. 2015. “Nelly’s Iconography of Greece,” In Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities, edited by Philip Carabott, Yannis Hamilakis and Eleni Papargyriou. London: Routledge: 233–56.

About the Author

Dr. Alex Nagel is Chair of the Art History and Museum Professions Program (AHMP). He recently contributed an essay on Greek archives and legacies at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to the volume Legacies of Ancient Greece in Contemporary Perspectives, ed. by Thomas Gerry (Vernon Press, 2022, pp. 23–62). Learn more about his work here.

One Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. 2019. Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism. London: Verso Books. 

Freedom Within: A Photo Essay by Christopher Huot

This guest photo essay was written by Harlem based photographer Christopher Huot. It was developed under and curated by Joi Berry (AHMP’23) as part of the initiative “Black Futures” sponsored by the FIT Diversity Collective in 2022. These are the words of Chris.

I am grateful for this opportunity. Coming from East Harlem, a place where opportunities feel slim, sometimes people lose sight of the goals they once had. In a setting where materialistic values are glorified, for the most part, it can feel hard to breathe when your dreams are larger than life. In this essay, most of the people photographed come from the same neighborhood as I. They understand the emotions I feel whether it be the joy of going outside on a hot summer day or mourning the loss of a close friend. I selected these photos because of the feelings they exude.

Every photograph in Freedom Within holds emotions that are dear to me. Some make me more emotional than others. Some hold darker, deeper emotions than others. All in all, they are very important to me and what I stand for. I truly believe that freedom is within us. I am a person who is easily swallowed by my emotions, and I tend to be less vulnerable than I could be. I have lost many things. Material and sentimental alike. When I decide to step back and look at my life for what it is, I realize that even though all the things I have gone through I am truly blessed. My journey has not been an easy one. Yet, from a different perspective, it is clear to me that my journey has only begun.

These photographs feature upcoming Harlem artist and musician Roseboy Siah. Siah, being the young man that he is, consistently comes to me to get commission work done. Starting his rap career at 14, his music has been getting more and more popular over the last five years. His image as an artist is important to him, and as his go-to photographer, his image is important to me as well.

Here is why the “Bell Ringer” photograph matters to me. When you come from a neighborhood where word travels fast, the positive things you do get spread quickly by the people around you. The second photograph features Siah in a place he is most happy. The studio has become his sanctuary. “Beginnings” was taken in the middle of the George Washington project houses in East Harlem, the neighborhood Siah built his support group. Siah’s music is loved by many, especially the people from here. Many of our mutual friends were raised in these housing projects. He has made it his mission to become an artist bigger than just a neighborhood star, he wants to become an international star. His community is what fuels him, and it is what he wants to give back to. This is something we both feel deeply about.

“Beyond the View” features models Kash and Josiah. The boat in the background was my main subject for this photo. I feel it tells a story of hope, while the simplicity of the actual atmosphere during the shoot was something I wish to feel every day. Just young people seeing the beauty of the ocean.

“Ootaman” features upcoming Harlem artist Dotty Boom. This is one of the first of many photos I took for my friend Dotty, whom I’ve known since middle school. This was also my first time using a point-and-shoot film camera. I wanted Dotty to be the first person I shot with the camera and this scene ended up being perfect in my eyes. From the outfit to the weather, everything was exactly how I wanted it to be. This photo opened my eyes to the beauty of film photography.

Thank you, again, for this opportunity.

Follow Chris’ work on instagram.

On James Galanos (1924–2016)

By Katherine Prior, Monday, March 27, 2022

This essay is written as an assignment for the AHMP senior class “Exhibitions” project ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION. The exhibition is on display at the State University of New York’s FIT campus Gladys Marcus Library in Spring and Summer 2022.

Fig. 1. Galanos, Evening dress, 1970. Silk ribbed chiffon. New York: The Museum at FIT, 86.80.1. Gift of Maurice S. Polkowitz, 1986.

James Galanos (1924–2016) designed this chiffon dress for his spring/summer 1970 collection, tapping into his Greek heritage by using fabrics featuring motifs inspired by ancient Greek pottery. This particular garment is reminiscent of red-figure style Greek pottery, which is characterized by drawings of delicate linework on raw terracotta base set against a darkly glazed background.

Motifs on the dress include lions, a sculpture resembling David standing over the head of Goliath, and swirling shapes evocative of ionic columns. The chiffon used in this collection was designed by Tzaims Luksus (born in 1932), an American designer and textile artist who was also a guest lecturer and consultant at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Born to Greek parents in Philadelphia in 1924, Galanos began drawing from a young age. He enrolled in the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City at the age of 18 with dreams of becoming a costume designer for film. However, he only stayed at the school for a few months before leaving in search of more hands-on experience. After a few years of working in Paris and New York, Galanos headed west to California, where he created his first fashion collection in 1951. He took the finishing techniques and workmanship he had learned in Paris and applied it skillfully to his own garments, referring to his work as “custom ready-to-wear” rather than couture. His first collection was purchased by Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and Galanos’s renown grew from there. In 1954, at the age of 29, Galanos became the youngest winner of the Coty Award (considered the “fashion Oscars” of the time) and proceeded to win the award again two years later. In 1984, he became the first recipient of the Coty Lifetime Achievement Award.

This dress from 1970 is notable for the way that it is both distinctly characteristic of Galanos yet also daring for its time in terms of fashion trends. Chiffon was one of Galanos’s design trademarks throughout his career, and this collection showed off the smocked chiffon that he was known for. What made Galanos’s 1970 collection surprising at the time, despite its solid connections to Galanos’s typical design style, was its length. The miniskirt had been the hallmark of the 1960s, and though some designers were cautiously experimenting with longer skirts, none of them went as far as Galanos did as he ushered in the maxi skirt trend of the 1970s. Although his designs for this collection drew from the past, Galanos was designing for the future.

Note: From November 1976 to February 1977, FIT celebrated “Galanos – 25 years.” Among those attending the opening gala on November 23, 1976 were the Greek Ambassador and his wife, philanthropists and members of the wealthy Greek elite in Manhattan including Dora Goulandris Voridis and members of the Coumantaros family.

Further Reading

Coffey-Webb, Louise and Sandra Rosenbaum. 2005. “James Galanos.” Dress, 32(1), 66–74.

Collins, Amy Fine. 2007. “When Galanos spelled glamour.” Vanity Fair, 49(1), April 14.

Morris, Bernadine. 1970. “Galanos abandons short hems—completely.” The New York Times, February 10.

Oakley, John. 2013. The Greek Vase: Art of the Storyteller. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum

About the Author

Katherine Prior is a senior in the AHMP program and is currently interning at The Museum at FIT. Her research interests are concentrated in film, television, and media studies.

Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

An exhibition I’m currently looking forward to seeing is Guarding the Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art (March 27, 2022 to July 10, 2022). It features artworks curated by the BMA’s Security department.

On Jean Dessès (1904–1970)

By Zoe Klipstein, Monday, March 28, 2022

This essay is written as an assignment for the AHMP senior class “Exhibitions” project ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION. The exhibition is on display at the State University of New York’s FIT campus Gladys Marcus Library in Spring and Summer 2022.

Fig. 1 Evening dresses by Jean Dessès, The Museum at FIT, 96.112.1 and 91.135.6, Gifts of Lady Arlene Kieta and Francine Gray. Photograph: The Museum at FIT.

Jean Dessès (1904–1970), whose beautiful gowns can be found in many major museums such as the Museum at FIT, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, began his fashion career at an early age.

Born to Greek parents in Egypt in 1904, Dessès was one of the estimated 150,000 Greeks living in Alexandria in the early 20th century. Those Greeks included writers Constantine Cavafy (1863–1933) and Penelope Delta (1874–1941). For all of them, Greek heritage played an inspirational role during their life. The Greek population in Egypt reached its peak in 1927, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Greek Army in Asia Minor in 1922.

Fig. 2 Water front at Alexandria, Egypt, from Palace Ras el Tin, between 1910 and 1926, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-F82- 1004.

Dessès worked first for a small couture house named Maison Jane. He opened his own couture house in 1937, and gained a lot of clients after the end of WW2. Around 1955, he opened a small boutique in Athens and would permanently move to Greece in 1960. Dessès did his major work primarily during the 1950s and 60s.

Dessès was well-known for his evening gowns. Many of these gowns are held in museum collections worldwide. Some are still worn by movie stars. In 2006, actress Jennifer Lopez wore a vintage green Jean Dessès dress to the Oscars. His dresses were inspired by classical Greek and Egyptian statuary and art, while still reflecting the trends of the time. After WW2, fashion shifted drastically because of the increased availability of different kinds of fabric. This was reflected in the creation of bigger skirts with more elaborate designs. Because the war was over, women no longer were expected to work and were expected to resume their feminine image causing a shift towards a more feminine silhouette in design. The way that Dessès took inspiration from classical Greek sculpture in his designs, creates a timeless image for his work. He uses complicated pleated patterns and light, delicate fabric that could make any woman feel like a goddess.

The dress introduced in ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION is held in the collections of the museum at FIT (96.112.1). It is a blue evening dress from 1956. The bodice is corseted and decorated with a complicated series of plates that would accentuate the wearers’ waist to achieve the desirable figure of the time. The skirt is made of layers of yellow and blue chiffon that makes the skirt have a very full and romantic feeling. It feels as though the dress was made for movement. This dress was last on display in Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse in 2020 where I was able to see it in person for the first time.

While he is not as widely known today as he was then, Dessès’ dresses are still on display. An overall assessment of his career and legacy will be possible when dispersed archival and material collections can be reassembled and a biography of his life has been written.

Further Reading

Kitroeff, Alexander. 2019. The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Leontis, Artemis, Lauren E. Talalay and Keith Taylor. 2002. What these Ithakas mean: Readings in Cavafy. Exhibition, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Ann Abor. The University of Michigan Press.

Mears, Patricia et al. eds. 2019. Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse. New York: Abrams.

Tziovas, Dimitris. 2009. Greek Diaspora and Migration since 1700: Society, Politics and Culture. Farnham: Ashgate.

Wilcox, Claire. 2007. The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957. London, Victoria & Albert Museum.

About the Author

Zoe Klipstein is a senior in the AHMP program and the Vice President of the AHMP Association. Zoe is interested in art and fashion history and wishes to one day further her education in fashion history.

Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 10, 2021 to March 6, 2022.

On George Stavropoulos (1920–1990)

By Abigail Rodriguez, Monday, March 28, 2022

This essay is written as an assignment for the AHMP senior class “Exhibitions” project ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION. The exhibition is on display at the State University of New York’s FIT campus Gladys Marcus Library in Spring and Summer 2022.

Fig. 1 Unknown Model wearing a Stavropoulos designed dress. Stavropoulos Collection Archives X 131, Fall Winter 1969-1970, Image courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology | SUNY, FIT Library Unit of Special Collections and College Archives

The Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC) at FIT houses a large collection of archival materials including photo albums, sketchbooks and ephemera once owned by Greek fashion designer George Stavropoulos (1920–1990).

A prolific fashion designer, who owned an atelier in downtown Manhattan — Stavropoulos Corp. was on 16 West 57th Street, he crafted designs for many celebrities, including Maria Callas (1923–1977), Sophia Loren, and Emily-Angelica Papoulias, wife of the late Greek Ambassador to the United States, Georgios Papoulias (1927–2009). Stavropoulos clients included the New York Governor first lady Evangeline Gouletas, and Lady Bird Johnson. Today, his designs, especially his evening gowns, are held in collections at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., at Kent State University in Kent in Ohio, at the Benaki Museum in Athens in Greece, and elsewhere.

Stravropoulos’ journey into the fashion world began in Greece. Born in Tripoli on the Peloponnese he opened a boutique in Athens in 1949. According to Kasey Bland’s insightful biography, “throughout the 1950s Stavropoulos … […] … began creating designs inspired by classical Greek figures.” (In 2010, Bland curated an exhibition on Stavropoulos at Kent State University Museum).

Not only were his fashion designs inspired by his heritage, but so did his growing network of business contractors and clients continue to engage with ancient Mediterranean heritage. At some point, he was even honored for his work by the Greek embassy in Washington, D.C.

The unknown model in the photograph displayed in ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION (Fig. 1), poses in a dress from the Stavropoulos Fall-Winter 1969–1970 collection. She stands in front of a large photograph of an ancient Mediterranean red-figured Greek calyx krater. Objects like these are on display in museums around the world such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the British Museum in London and in the Louvre in Paris. Interestingly enough, one of the more iconic portraits of Stavropoulos himself preserved today features an ancient Greek vase in the background.

Promoting the same Fall Winter 1969–1970 collection, Stavropoulos’ models were also featured on the Acropolis in Athens and in the streets of the city by the Piraeus (Fig. 2).

Fig 2 Unknown Model wearing a Stavropoulos designed dress in Athens, Greece, in 1970, Stavropoulos Collection Archives X 131 Image courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology | SUNY, FIT Library Unit of Special Collections and College Archives.

Kasey Bland’s 2008 biography of the designer introduced a wealth of materials from the rich Kent State University Stavropoulos archives in Ohio. Bland was also able to conduct an interview with Stavropoulos’ son Peter.

The black evening dress in the photograph on display incorporates a see-through mesh material gliding smoothly, surrounding the model’s arms draping with ease. Stavropoulos’ style made women wearing hid dresses look soft, and he believed women should be able to move around in high-end dresses with grace.

Fig 3 From an advertise of a Fashion show in a Florida newspaper, Clip in the Stavropoulos Collection Archives. Image courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology | SUNY, FIT Library Unit of Special Collections and College Archives

The photograph on display in ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION and other fashion photo shoots of Stavropoulos’ collections housed in SPARC emphasize the importance of his Greek heritage as a feature in the Stavropoulos brand and marketing. I myself am inspired by my own Mexican heritage and hope to become an advocate for my own culture one day.

Further Reading

Bland, Kasey. 2008. The Life and Career of Fashion Designer George Stavropoulos. Thesis, University of Akron.

Bender, Marylin. 1965. Stavropoulos: A Greek Name to Drop,” The New York Times, July 10.

Schierup, Stine and Victoria Sabetai eds. 2014. The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

A collection of 150 dresses donated to Kent State University in Ohio and more material can be found here.

About the Author

Abigail Rodriguez is a senior in the AHMP program. Fascinated by the art history of Mexico, her goal is to work in an educational capacity in an art institution in the near future.

Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

Japan: A History of Style, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (March 8 to April 24, 2022).

On Identities

By John Paul Jang, Sunday, March 20, 2022

This essay is written as an assignment for the AHMP senior class “Exhibitions” project ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION. The exhibition is on display at the State University of New York’s FIT campus Gladys Marcus Library in Spring and Summer 2022.

Fig. 1 Open-toe wedge plateau shoes, Delman, c. 1940. The Museum at FIT. 71.263.3. Gift of Yeffe Kimball Slatin (1914-1978).

These open-toe wedge sandals were once owned by American artist Yeffe Kimball (1914–1978). They were designed by an American shoemaker with conscious artistic decisions to express a break with traditional women’s shoe ware and their role during World War II, consisting of motifs inspired by ancient Greek designs. The designer incorporated societal desire by combining wedge heels and Greek symbols of victory. Much has been written about their owner Kimball by scholars such as Bill Anthes and Sarah Anne Stolte in recent years. But how did she express herself in daily life through her fashion choices?

The imagery of the figures in these sandals resembles that of Greek vases containing red-figure techniques: a glazing technique invented in ca. 530–525 BCE in Corinth. In this technique, the figures were left as the earthy color of the clay, and details were added in a black glaze. These sandals only mimic the visual representation of the ancient Greek technique because the designs are stitched on. The figures depict armored warriors with courageous and active stances. Images of Greek victory were a prevalent theme in art in the 5th century BCE, such as those that appear in Terracotta Nolan amphora, ca. 480-470 BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scene depicts a Greek victory over the Persians, which was a unique theme as mythological battles were a dominantly popular theme during the time. The scene on the sandals also mirrors ancient sculptures such as those depicted on the Temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina, created around the same time in 480 BCE.

Fig. 2 Fallen Warrior from the pedimental sculptures of the temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina in Greece, today in Munich, c. 480 BCE (still from Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, “East and West Pediments from the Temple of Aphaia, Aegina,” in Smarthistory, December 9, 2015, accessed March 20, 2022, https://smarthistory.org/east-and-west-pediments-from-the-temple-of-aphaia-aegina/.)

The blue and white colors of the wedge heels also have a symbolic character beyond its connection to modern-day Greece. Azure blue and white are the national colors of Greece as they appear in its national flag. Blue and white appear in the symbol of the United Nations established on October 24, 1945, which became a symbol of international peace and security. The artist expressed the desire for peace and unity during the turbulent time of World War II.

Wedge heels were invented by Italian fashion designer Salvatore Ferragamo (1898–1960) in 1936. In the 1930s and 1940s, shoes that revealed the toes were uncommon as they were considered immodest. The outbreak of WWII led to the shortage of materials such as leather, resulting in it only being used exclusively for soldiers’ boots. While felt, help, straw, and textiles became common materials for shoes, the invention of wedge heels provided more comfort than other kinds of women’s shoes, such as oxford heels and pumps. Wedge heels allowed women to do “man’s work” and perform masculine jobs while allowing themselves to have femininity and return to the pre-war roles. While we may not be able to answer why Yeffe Kimball chose to wear such a pair, the sandals are a testament to her complex identity.


Further Reading

Anthes, Bill. 2006. “Becoming Indian: The Self-Invention of Yeffe Kimball,” In Native Moderns. American Indian Painting, 1940–1960, edited by Nicholas Thomas, 117–42. Duke University Press.

O’Keeffe, Linda. 1996. Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers and More, New York, Workman.

Olds, Lauren. 2001. World War II and Fashion: The Birth of the New Look. Constructing the Past, vol. 2, no. 1, ser. 6, 47–53.

Stolte, Sarah Anne. 2019. “Hustling and Hoaxing: Institutions, Modern Styles, and Yeffe Kimball’s ‘Native’ Art,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 43 (4): 77–92.

About the Author

John Paul Jang serves as the Senator of the Art History and Museum Professions Program. She is the Student Chair of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences DEI Committee, and is the founder of the Art Historian and Museum Professional Association (AHMPA).

Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

I was impressed to see Sophie Tauber-Arp: Living Abstraction at MoMA (November 21, 2021 to March 12, 2022). Beyond her avant-garde craftsmanship about which I learned in Professor Weinstein’s Dada & Surrealism class, I love her playful experiments in colors and geometric composition.

On George Stavrinos (1948–1990)

By Richard Montañez, Sunday, March 20, 2022

This essay is written as an assignment for the AHMP senior class “Exhibitions” project ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION. The exhibition is on display at the State University of New York’s FIT campus Gladys Marcus Library in Spring and Summer 2022.

Except for Brad Hamann’s Moonfall (2010), and a series of video interviews with his sisters, not too much has been written about the life and career of Greek American fashion illustrator George Stavrinos (1948–1990).

Stravrinos was born as the last of seven to parents who immigrated from Greece to near Boston in March 1948. Rising to great success in the 1970s and 80s, Stavrinos died of AIDS related complications in August 1990 at a hospital in New York City. Today, FIT’s Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC) houses some fourteen of his original illustrations. They entered SPARC through his friend, FIT Illustration Professor Rosemary Torre. Other original Stavrinos illustrations are kept at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Art in New York.

“My parents gave us a very European upbringing. …[…]… I went to Greek school after regular American school, where we were taught to read and write Greek …[…]… I served as an altar boy for seven years in the Greek Orthodox Church.” (Stavrinos, in an interview with Nathan Fain, 1978).

Well known in the world of commercial fashion illustration, Stavrinos produced works for the likes of Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, and The New York Times. He also crafted illustrations for Gentlemen Quarterly and Blueboy, referencing classic images of gay American erotica and lifestyle, often through representations of archetypal masculinity and handsomeness. Stavrinos visited relatives in Heraklion in Crete on at least one occasion in 1969 and 1970 before he moved permanently to New York City in 1973. Throughout his career, Stavrinos produced illustrations for magazines that were marketed toward gay men, openly referencing his own sexuality in a time of intense discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.

Figs. 1 and 2. Figure in suit by Charlotte Neuville: suit jacket has four square buttons, For Lord & Taylor, Signed, 1989. Stavrinos, George, “Charlotte Neuville Suit,” SPARC Digital, accessed March 20, 2022. Archaic Kouros from Greece, c. 590-580 BCE, marble from Naxos. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1). The exact circumstances of the modern discovery of the kouros are unknown. It was owned by the German collector Jacob Hirsch (1874–1955) and has traces of original paint.

The illustration that I chose from his oeuvre is of a figure in a Charlotte Neuville suit, particularly because it is so androgynous in appearance. The illustration is from 1989 and was created only a few months before his death. The work is a testament to Stavrinos’ ability to confidently navigate different kinds of fashion and advertising spaces and their attitudes toward queerness or mixed gender expression. Not only does the figure emulate queerness through the garment they are wearing, but they also are sporting a non-conformist hairstyle which pushes this narrative further. This is particularly interesting when considering ideas about masculinity and homosexuality that can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece, a prominent part of Stavrinos’ heritage.

In his illustrations of both men and women, he utilized sources of inspiration such as Minoan, Archaic and Classical Greek sculptures and standards of beauty, which, at least for men, have been reproduced, reused, and recoded into gay culture for as long as homosexuality has existed. To my mind come the many surviving statues of Kouroi (young men), excavated in Greece and now on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. One can almost imagine Stavrinos, who lived in a studio on a top floor corner apartment on 76 West 86th Street near Manhattan’s Central Park for many years, walking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to draw the Greek kouros on display here since 1931.

Fig. 3 Stavrinos, third from the right, with friends in 1978. From Nathan Fain, “George Stavrinos, Illustrator,” Christopher Street, November 1978, 16–25. FIT Library, Fashion File-Illustrators – Folder Stavrinos, George.

Stavrinos’ images, particularly in erotica, can often depict displays of power, dominance, and in certain cases, invitation, which can change depending on the viewer and their own perception or fantasy of the image of the model. In this case, with a more femme-presenting figure, it becomes especially clear that they are purposely constructed to be more stoic or solid in appearance to emulate a certain kind of masculinity within women.

In 21st century contexts, we now have a clear understanding that menswear or references to menswear are not automatically indicative of power and agency within anyone, but Stavrinos’ illustrations exude timelessness regardless. In considering what were more personal aspects about his life and why he drew the subjects that he did, the subtle choices that were made in his commercial works are reminders of the influence queer life had on him during his lifetime and how they inspired him to continue working.

Fig. 4 The author with the Stavrinos illustration set in FIT’s SPARC in March 2022.

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to April Callahan, Curator of Manuscript Collections and Associate at the Special Collections and Archives (SPARC), Gladys Marcus Library at FIT, who facilitated access to the original drawings of Stavrinos.

Further Reading

Hamann, Brad. 2010. Moonfall. The Life and Art of George Stavrinos. Based on the author’s M.F.A. Visual Arts Graphic Design thesis at Marywood University.

Fain, Nathan. 1978. “George Stavrinos, Illustrator,” Christopher Street, November 1978, 16–25.

Kaltsas, Nikos. 2002. Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Richter, Gisela and Irma Richter. 1936. “The Archaic ‘Apollo’ in the Metropolitan Museum.” Metropolitan Museum Studies, 5 (1934–1936), 20–57.

Stavrinos. Clarity of Vision. Stavrinos’ sisters Venetia, Sandra and Debbie talk about the love and admiration they had for their brother (the video is accessible on youtube here).

About the Author

Richard Montañez is a senior in the AHMP program at FIT. His interests include queer art history, the decolonization of museums, and curatorial artists.

Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

Faith Ringgold: American People” The New Museum, New York City, February 17, 2022 to June 5, 2022.

On Despina Messinesi (1911–2003)

By Frida Loyola, Sunday, March 20, 2022

This essay is written as an assignment for the AHMP senior class “Exhibitions” project ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION. The exhibition is on display at the State University of New York’s FIT campus Gladys Marcus Library in Spring and Summer 2022.

A type written letter with her hand written signature, sent by Despina Messinesi (1911–2003) to Thomas Drew at the Galleries at FIT on March 23, 1975, is preserved in accession files with The Museum of FIT. The letter informed Drew about the original whereabouts of the ensembles she had just donated. These ensembles included a New Look 1951 dress by Christian Dior and a 1955 Jean Dessès chiffon.

Fig. 1 Evening dress, Christian Dior 1951. Gift of Despina Messinesi, The Museum at FIT 75.86.5.

Like something out of an Audrey Hepburn movie. (Stephen Miller 2003).

From a 2003 obituary and other archival documents preserved, we learn that she was born as Despina Georgia Plakias to Greek immigrants from Ioannina in a suburb of Boston in 1911. She lost her father at the age of 11.

Fig. 2 Despina Plakias, then 18 years, as Monsieur Beaucaire in the Senior Play of the 1929 class, on the left. “Despina and Doris stand together; German Play,” June 1929, Abbot Collections, accessed March 20, 2022.

An early photograph shows the 18 year old Despina dressed up as Monsieur Beaucaire for a student theater play at Abbot Academy in Andover, MA. Based on a 1900 novel, the novel gained new fame in a silent movie with Rudolph Valentino in 1924 which in turn served as the inspiration for the play. The Andover Townsman from June 7, 1929 described Despina’s performance as “outstanding …[…]… With charm of voice, expression and manner, her Beaucaire dominated every situation with a simple, easy grace.”

In the same summer of 1929, Despina traveled to Greece, visiting her grandmother. Here she met her future husband, the wealthy Greek shipping magnate Miltiades Leon Messinesi (born 1895), and got married. Messinesi’s father was a former General Consul in London. According to a news feature submitted by Despina’s brother John Plakias to the New York Times in 1931 she began living in Athens in Greece around the same time. During these years, she continued to travel and began to work as a fashion reporter in Paris.

As Artemis Leontis has shown in her brilliant biography of the American Hellenophile Eva Palmer Sikelianos (18741952), the 1930s brought a new wave of great interest in Greek fashion to New York City. The city was excited about Greek fashion. Thanks to a friendship with curator Gisela Richter, the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured an exhibition on Palmer Sikelianos’ fashion creations in the summer of 1937, and two years later the Greek government lent a number of original ancient Greek sculptures to the World’s Fair in Queens in New York City.

During all these years, Despina “Madam Milto Messinesi” traveled back and forth between Athens, London, Paris and New York. She moved back more permanently to New York City in 1941, and began to work for Vogue shortly thereafter. A funny story relates to her first day at work in April 1941 and was described by the biographer of her obituary as follows:

Hired at $25 a week, she actually took off her first day of work in order to run a publicity stunt for Greek war relief, leading a herd of flower-bedecked donkeys through New York’s streets and to the Ritz. Coming into the Vogue offices the next morning, she was surprised to find that everyone seemed to know her already. Then she learned why: A half-page photo of her hugging a donkey had appeared in that morning’s paper.

Photographs from the event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel are preserved. I was able to identify and read most of her Vogue articles and collected information on the dresses she donated to the FIT Galleries. In her own voice she introduces herself as a “little shop-hound, size 10,” to the Vogue readers in April 1944.

Over the next decades, she became Vogue‘s main fashion editor, traveling places far and wide. During these decades, she became known for her sense of elegance. Ensembles owned by The Museum at FIT today including the black dress 77.17.3, possibly by fellow Greek diaspora designer Jean Dessès, a silk satin with polychrome ribbon, silk floss embroidery, and rhinestones by Christian Dior 1951 (75.86.5), or dress 81.232.1 by Christian Dior New York 1954 were part of her fashionable wardrobe, and made her indeed appear like out of an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Fig. 3 Despina Messinesi modeling and writing. From Vogue, April 15, 1944, vol 103 (8), pp. 80-81. A copy of the volume owned by the FIT periodicals collection is on display in the exhibition.

Vogue featured her work on the royal Greek family, and several travel stories, sometimes from Greece, are part of her oeuvre. Today, The Museum at FIT and The Metropolitan Museum of Art house Messinesi’s donations. Her dresses are as diverse as fascinating and include a pair of American underwear pants from 1916, a fine woolen dress by French fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro (19332017) from the late 1960s and others. The voice of her writings for Vogue remains in FIT’s Library periodical collections. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Further Reading

Leontis, Artemis. 2019. Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Miller, Stephen. 2003. Despina Messinesi, Long Time Editor at Vogue, 92. Obituary, July 2003.

O’Shea Borrelli, Laird. 1997. “Dressing Up and Talking about It: Fashion Writing in Vogue from 1968 to 1993,” Fashion Theory 1.3 (1997), 247–59.

About the Author

Frida Loyola enrolled in the AHMP program after attending the Pink symposium in 2018 at the Museum at FIT. She plans to blend her design experience with Museum Studies and work as a Fashion Historian.

Current Favorite Reading or Art Exhibition

One of my favorite, and recent, exhibitions was The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming at the Peabody Essex Museum. The trials serve as an example of injustice and intolerance in our country’s history and remind us that history can indeed repeat itself.

ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION: An Introduction

ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION opens on Monday March 21 at the FIT Gladys Marcus Library.

Written by Alex Nagel, Sunday, March 20, 2022

Beginning this week, the State University of New York’s FIT will be celebrating Greek-American Heritage Month with an exhibition curated by the Senior AHMP Seminar class of 2022.

Students in the AHMP Senior class prepared exciting essays about the legacies of Greek fashion designers, writers and illustrators at SUNY FIT in New York City. Donations and archives of individuals such as Despina Messinesi (1911–2003), George Stavropoulos (1920–1990), James Galanos (1924–2016), George Stavrinos (1948–1990), and others are at The Museum at FIT and at the Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC). A Greek translation of this introduction, kindly provided by AHMP Senior student Chrysa Tasioula, follows below.

Many of those introduced here were born in America, traveled or lived in Greece for some time. All were inspired by ancient motifs or referenced ancient monuments throughout their careers which we hope to introduce here. Essays written by the students will shine a light on some of these creatives and their legacies at FIT and in New York City. Thank you for reading our essays! Thank you for visiting the exhibition! Σας ευχαριστώ που διαβάσατε την ελληνική μετάφραση πιο κάτω!

Looking closer, one finds that there are many Greek treasures in the Museum, Archives and Library at FIT. Take, for a start, the elegant wardrobe and fashion ensembles by Despina “Depy” Messinesi (19112003). Working for over 52 years at Vogue, she donated gowns and accessories to SUNY’s Manhattan campus at FIT. ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION also features facsimiles of original illustrations by fashion illustrator George Stavrinos (1948–1990). Posthumously honored with a Society of Illustrators Award in 2007, FIT’s SPARC owns original illustrations, and an illustration from 1980 is on the ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION exhibition poster.

When Alexandros Rizos Rangavis (1809–1892), the first official Greek ambassador to Washington, D.C., visited New York City in 1867, he was impressed by the New Yorkers. He singled out the broad streets, Central Park and the holdings of the New York Historical Society. While he returned to Athens, many Greeks began immigrating and settling in New York. Today, the largest population of Greeks in New York City lives in Astoria in Queens. Since 1998, a copy of the so-called Piraeus Athena is standing in Athens Square Park as a gift from Athenians to New Yorkers.

We are indebted to the Gladys Marcus Library at FIT colleagues and staff who were so kind to lent us exhibition space. We owe particular thanks to Greta Earnest, James Ferguson and the Library Exhibitions Committee.

Thank you to all the staff at the Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC) team, the Library at FIT, our colleagues at The Museum at FIT, and the Office of the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at FIT and the FIT Diversity Collective, in particular Karen Trivette, April Callahan, Nanja Andriananjason, Eileen Flannigan, Gabriella Bucciarelli, Helen Lane, Sonia Dingilian and Melissa Marra-Alvarez.

Support came from Justine De Young, History of Art, Mary Tsujimoto and Patrick Knisley, FIT’s Dean of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Division. We also are grateful for the help with the translations, kindly provided by AHMP student Chrysa Tasioula.

The AHMP Senior Exhibitions class curators include Liana Arkay, Matthew Balcom, Sophie Benzakein, Nadine Hauser, Ivette Hodnovich, John Paul Jang, Zoe Klipstein, Frida Loyola, Richard Montañez, Vanessa Munoz, Tessa Norton, Stephanie O’Donnell, Natalia Orestis, Katherine Prior and Abigail Rodriguez.

ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION is on display at the FIT Gladys Marcus Library, on 227 West 27th Street in New York City in Spring and Summer 2022.

Further Reading

The First Greek Ambassador to the American Federation 1867–1868. From the Memoirs of Alexandros Rizos Rangavis. Translated by Christine Gabrielides. Nostos Books, 2019.

Hamilakis, Yannis. 2007. The Nation and its Ruins. Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moskos, Charles. 1990. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success. New Brunswick: Transaction.

Rozeas, Christina. 2012. Greeks in Queens. Charleston: Arcadia.

Saridakis, Nikos. 2019. Greek Fashion – 100 Inspirational and Creative Years. Exhibition Catalog. Nafplion: Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation [in Greek].

Xenides, John. 1922. The Greeks in America. New York: Doran & Co.

The Modern Greek Studies Association holds events and publishes regularly about Greeks in America.

Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 1983ff.

The Journal of Modern Hellenism, 1984ff.

The Greek Cultural Center of New York is operating since the 1970s in Astoria, Queens.

The translation below was kindly provided by Chrysa Tasioula, Art History and Museum Professions’ 2022.

Τιμώντας τον μήνα Ελληνοαμερικανικής Κληρονομιάς, το ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION εγκαινιάζεται τη Δευτέρα 21 Μαρτίου στη Βιβλιοθήκη Gladys Marcus, Shirley Goodman Resources Center, FIT.

Απο αυτή την εβδομάδα, το FIT θα γιορτάζει τον Μήνα της Ελληνοαμερικανικής Κληρονομιάς με μια έκθεση που επιμελείται η τάξη Senior AHMP Seminar του 2022. Οι μαθητές ενασχολούνται με την κληρονομιά Ελλήνων σχεδιαστών μόδας, συγγραφέων και εικονογράφων όπως ο Γιώργος Σταυρόπουλος (1920–1990), η Δέσποινα Μεσσήνη (19112003), Τζέιμς Γαλανός (19242016), Γιώργος Σταυρινός (19481990) μεταξύ άλλων, στο Μουσείο του FIT και στις Ειδικές Συλλογές και Αρχεία Κολλεγίων (SPARC) που στεγάζονται στη Βιβλιοθήκη Gladys Marcus. Πολλοί από αυτούς που παρουσιάστηκαν εδώ γεννήθηκαν στην Αμερική, ταξίδεψαν ή έζησαν για λίγο στην Ελλάδα. Ωστόσο, όλοι τους εμπνεύστηκαν από αρχαία μοτίβα ή ανακάλεσαν αρχαία μνημεία κατά τη διάρκεια της καριέρας τους, τα οποία ελπίζουμε να παρουσιάσουμε εδώ. Κάθε Δευτέρα, τρεις νέες εκθέσεις τις οποίες γράφουν οι μαθητές θα ρίχνουν φως σε μερικούς από αυτούς τους καλλιτέχνες και την παρακαταθήκη τους στο FIT και στη Νέα Υόρκη. Σας ευχαριστούμε που διαβάζετε τις εκθέσεις μας! Σας ευχαριστούμε που επισκεφθήκατε την έκθεση!

Αν κοιτάξει κανείς πιο προσεκτικά, διαπιστώνει ότι υπάρχουν πολλοί ελληνικοί θησαυροί στο Μουσείο, τα Αρχεία και τη Βιβλιοθήκη του FIT. Πάρτε, για αρχή, τα κληροδοτήματα της Δέσποινας «Ντέπυ» Μεσσηνή (1911–2003), η οποία εργάστηκε για 52 χρόνια στη Vogue και δώρισε μέρη της κομψής γκαρνταρόμπας και των συνόλων μόδας της στις γκαλερί FIT. Στο ΜΟΔΑ IS FASHION συμμετέχει επίσης ο Γιώργος Σταυρινός (1948–1990) ο οποίος εργάστηκε ως εικονογράφος σε μεγάλες εκδόσεις μόδας και το 2007 τιμήθηκε με το Society of Illustrators Award. Σήμερα, η SPARC της FIT διαθέτει μια αξιόλογη συλλογή πρωτότυπων εικονογραφήσεων και μια εικονογράφηση από το 1980 βρίσκεται στο εξώφυλλο της έκθεσης. Ωστόσο, ακόμη, εκτός από μια κολακευτική και σημαντική βιογραφία που συντάχθηκε το 2010, ελάχιστα δημοσιεύονται γύρω από τις ιστορίες της τέχνης και στο πλαίσιο της αξιοσημείωτης συλλογής εικονογραφήσεων.

Όταν ο Αλέξανδρος Ρίζος Ρανγκαβής (1809–1892), ο πρώτος επίσημος Έλληνας πρεσβευτής στην Washington, D.C., επισκέφθηκε τη Νέα Υόρκη το 1867, εντυπωσιάστηκε από τους Νεορκέζους. Ξεχώρισε τους μεγάλους δρόμους, το Σέντραλ Παρκ και τις εταιρείες της Ιστορικής Εταιρείας της Νέας Υόρκης. Ενώ επέστρεψε στην Αθήνα, πολλοί Έλληνες άρχισαν να μεταναστεύουν και να εγκαθίστανται στη Νέα Υόρκη. Στη μονογραφία του, Οι Έλληνες στην Αμερική (1922), ο John Xenides περιέγραψε ήδη 80 ή 90 Ελληνικές Εταιρείες στη Νέα Υόρκη στις αρχές της δεκαετίας του 1920.

Σήμερα, ο μεγαλύτερος πληθυσμός Ελλήνων στη Νέα Υόρκη ζει στην Astoria, Queens. Από το 1998, ένα αντίτυπο της λεγόμενης Πειραιώς Αθηνάς στέκεται στο Athens Square Park ως δώρο των Αθηναίων στους Νεορκέζους. Στις γκαλερί του The Met, οι μαθητές του FIT, διάβασαν Κωνσταντίνο Καβάφη μπροστά από μια αρχαία ελληνική ταφόπλακα.

Welcome!

A Happy Welcome from the State University of New York’s FIT Art History and Museum Professions program!

We are in the heart of Lenapehoking, ancestral homelands of the Lenape people. We are on 227 West 27th Avenue in what is today referred to as the downtown in the very heart of Manhattan, New York City.

On this blog, we want to share voices of AHMP students, faculty, alumni, colleagues, guests, supporters and friends. What do we think about a new gallery or museum exhibition we see? What exhibitions are we working on? Which exciting authors or books are we reading? We welcome your contributions to the blog as well! Tell us what you are up to. Please do get in touch if you are connected to AHMP!

Why begin a blog? Our annual newsletter, Art History Insider became so successful that we decided it would be best to update you on a more regular basis. Our students hold exciting internships and positions, work at The Museum at FIT, observe and discuss arts in and out of the classroom, activate and address challenges and changes in the field and at large, and curate exhibitions. So do our faculty, staff and alumni. We recognize your efforts and want to showcase them, beyond our AHMP instagram account.

The FIT Art History and Museum Professions Program acknowledges that it is located on Lenapehoking, ancestral homelands of the Lenape people. We recognize the continued significance of these lands for Lenape nations past and present, we pay our respects to the ancestors, as well as to past, present, and emerging Lenape leaders.

We also want to recognize that New York City has the largest urban Indigenous population in the United States. We believe that addressing structural Indigenous exclusion and erasure is critically important and we are committed to actively working to overcome the ongoing effects and realities of settler-colonialism within the institutions where we currently work. We hope the short essays on this blog will raise interest in the many exciting things happening in and around our Art History and Museum Professions program!

Thank you for taking time to read!

Professor Alex Nagel, March 15, 2022

To contact us, just email the blog administrators:

alexander_nagel[at]fitnyc.edu or molly_schoen[at]fitnyc.edu. 

Photo: State University of New York Manhattan Campus FIT Entrance on West 27th Street. Alex Nagel, April 2019.

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