The Chelsea Hotel. Month June. Year Two Thousand Too Late

 

chelsea3iThe Chelsea is undergoing extensive renovation under its new ownership, since 2011. With each roaring drill and every banging hammer, another story from the past is whispered down the hallways… Dylan Thomas… Arthur Miller… Gore Vidal… Patty Smith… Iggy Pop… Sid Vicious… wild parties, murders & suicides… Nancy Spungen… the Warhol girls and boys… Edie Sedgwick set fire to her room… Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey here… Charles James moved in and kept a tiny studio until his death in 1978. He was alone and penniless but there was always room for legends in the Chelsea.

When the makeover is complete, all signs and relics of the past glory days will be gone; with them the old school artists and eccentrics, the colourful community that kept the legend alive and called the Chelsea home. A new gentrified, modern era shall begin.

I took a long hard look at the celebrated red-brick façade before walking on, acutely aware it would be the first and last time I saw the Chelsea in this curious moment in time. I walked away with a growing sense of wonder and nostalgia; for times past, for the future, for the city that was and is no more…

chelsea1i

Hotel Chelsea
222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
New  York

18 June 2014

The Chelsea was featured in an episode of the BBC series Arena. Filmed in 1981, it follows a guiding tour, introduces some of the guests, residents and staff and gives a very good idea of the strange and wonderful community that was the Chelsea. Uploaded on YouTube  in six parts:

DS+R = The Look

31_logoI first came across the name Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) at the Charles James: Beyond Fashion retrospective. I remember thinking that their system of animated imagery, robotic arms and projectors, was one of the main factors that elevated the exhibition from conventional to exceptional. The other being James’ stunning designs, of course.

Wishing to learn more about them, I had a look on their website. A long list of projects popped up, among which the design of the High Line; but it was actually ”The Look”, a DS+R recent collaboration with the DESTE Foundation that held my attention.

The DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art was established in 1983 as a non-profit institution based in Athens, Greece. Its aim is to promote contemporary art and the work of young artists to a wider audience.

The destefashioncollection is an evolving project conceived by the Foundation ”to consider and trouble the boundaries between art and fashion”. Each year since 2007, DESTE has commissioned an artist to curate a capsule collection selecting five to ten articles from that year’s fashion collections. In 2012 it was Athina Rachel Tsangari’s film and projection installation The Capsule. In 2013, it was the photographic project of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Deste (Δέστε) is the  Greek word for Look. ”The Look” by DS+F is described as:

”… a narrative in eighteen scenes about youth, aging, timelessness, and identity. It is set in an ambiguous time. Dispersed throughout are ten accessories that comprise the 2013 capsule collection. These selections from runway couture and ready-to-wear collections are “assisted” classics.”

A study on the longevity of Architecture in contrast to the ephemeral nature of Fashion, set in Philip Johnson’s Glass House of 1949. A survey on trends through time: with the common denominator set on Classic they both become Timeless.

THE LOOK

2013_DFC_DILLER_01_2-857x641

2013_DFC_DILLER_02_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_03_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_04_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_05_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_06_2-857x641

2013_DFC_DILLER_07_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_08_2-857x641

2013_DFC_DILLER_09_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_10_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_11_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_12_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_13_2-857x641

2013_DFC_DILLER_14_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_15_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_16_2

2013_DFC_DILLER_17_2-857x641

2013_DFC_DILLER_18_2

 THE COLLECTION

collect2Spotted any of these?

MARTIN MARGIELA//Cork Lace-Up Shoes
LOTHO//Yuwano Sunglasses
ROCK & CANDY//London Wedge Sneakers
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE//Pearl Necklace Earring
BLU//Disposable E-Cig
MARTIN MARGIELA//Splatter Replica Sneakers
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE//Faux Fox Stole
MAISON MICHEL//Heidi Rabbit with Veil
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD ANGLOMANIA FOR MELISSA//Lady Dragon IX Pump
LEG AVENUE//Jumbo Fishnets

CREDITS:

Project by DILLER SCOFIDIO + RENFRO
Photography by MATTHEW MONTEITH

DESTEFASHIONCOLLECTION: 1 to 8, an assembly of the first eight years of capsules and projects, is being presented for the first time in its entirety at the

Benaki Museum,
Pireos St. Annexe Building
Athens

until October 12, 2014.

Reconstructing James

WP_20140612_14_04_13i[Fashion & Haute couture // Sculpture // Architecture // Design // Geometry]

If at least one of the above strikes a chord, you will most certainly enjoy ”Charles  James: Beyond Fashion”, currently on show at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. That is, if you haven’t been there already, in which case you’ll recognise the entire combination that makes up one of the most acclaimed exhibitions of the year.

A retrospective featuring some of the most innovative designs that influenced and revolutionised the world of fashion, ”reshaped” the female figure and breathed a sense of luxurious elegance, finesse and structure to the word Couture. Presented in two locations within the Met, separated by a floor and quite some distance. In between them a long walk across the marvels of Greek and Roman section, European Sculpture and the breathtaking Egyptian Art collection, all of which are so inspiring one tends to get deliberately lost. But one look  at James’ masterfully constructed sculptures and you’ll want to go back for more; the museum’s map and omnipresent staff are there to help put wanderers back on the right track.

WP_20140612_14_10_47i

The exhibition begins on the first floor in a dimly lit room where James’ iconic ball gowns stand on single pedestals, highlighted by spot lights. In front of every dress there are robotic arms,  some with cameras, others with digital projectors.

The curators collaborated with designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), an interdisciplinary studio that integrates architecture, visual and performing arts, who created a system of video animated imagery that deconstructs, pieces together and reconstructs James’ garments. The whole procedure is projected, step-by-scrutinous-step, on screen, shedding bright light into the great designer’s craftmanship and technique.

A very impressive presentation which, far from taking away the magic, inspires renewed  admiration; because, as Harold Koda, the curator in charge said: ”Charles James was one of the few 20th century figures whose clothes can sustain this kind of microscopic scrutiny;  he was a real 360-degree designer”.

All around the ball gowns room, there seemed to be much chatter about the shape and weight of the garments:

- These were all such tiny people! Look at this tiny waist!

A great tribute to Charles James’ ingenious cut. He said so himself: ”My dresses help women discover figures the didn’t know they had”.

- Do you think she could walk in it?… – This dress must be heavy!

Indeed, James’ experimentation, manipulation and generous use of fabrics sometimes resulted in dresses weighing up to 20 pounds (or 9 kg)! His elegant ”Butterfly” silk gown of 1955, with its 25 yards of tulle and 18 pounds is one of the heavier structures, as is the famous ”Clover Leaf” ball gown of 1953, weighing ”just” 10 pounds. Despite their weight, the dresses not only allow free movement but, apparently, they also ”feel” light because of the clever, balanced placement of weight on strategic parts like the trapezius muscle that supports the arm, or the hips.

The exhibition continues on the ground floor with more evening wear, James’ fabulous coats and some ingeniously cut dresses, like the Taxi Dress, a black wool rib knit created around 1932 and was ”so easy to wear it could be slipped on in the backseat of a taxi”.

WP_20140612_16_12_53i

WP_20140612_14_03_24iPhotography is strictly not allowed sparking much discussion, protest, and repeated snappy no-nos from the staff. But, there is always the Met and other websites… and some brave, rebellious spirits like Jackie Mallon who, unwilling to take no for an answer, documented her visit and managed to emerge unscathed to share her experience. If you haven’t yet visited Jackie’s blog you could start right here. Hers is a beautiful world and you’ll soon be enthralled by  it.

For the less adventurous of us, there is still one room where snapshots are allowed; the gallery showcasing some of James’ drawings, pattern pieces, maquettes, accessories and notes. Equally fascinating, for if his garments reveal the true genius of the designer, these ephemera speak volumes about James the man.

WP_20140612_14_42_50i WP_20140612_14_44_07i

WP_20140612_16_33_44i

WP_20140612_16_36_12i

James’ feather fans (1935-50) in the form of birds’ wings were inspired by the Surrealist movement in the 1930s and became his signature evening accessory for the next fifteen years.

WP_20140612_16_37_21i

The birth of his son, Charles James Jr. in 1956, inspired a children’s collection. Designs included special seaming to allow for greater ease of movement. Princess Grace of Monaco snapped up a layette for her first child Caroline.The Baby Cape coat, that is displayed here prominently, was later translated into the ”Cocoon” coat for adults.

WP_20140612_16_35_29i

WP_20140612_16_41_53i

James’ ”Flexible Sculpture” ca. 1966 is visible on the left. In an effort to improve the fit of American ready-to-wear, James dissected the torso of his model into six pieces that could be moved to imitate different postures, ultimately resulting in better fitting garments.

WP_20140612_16_38_46i WP_20140612_16_42_49i

cj coll

One-of -a-kind evening jacket made by James in 1937, in response to the boxy fur jackets Schiaparelli and others were showing at the time. The predecessor of today’s puffer jackets.

Never one to shy away from expressing his opinions, some of which would have been downright vicious, James kept a couple of notes:

WP_20140612_16_42_20i

Here is one about artists that influenced his ”thinking”; fashion artists that influenced his work from the time he embarked on a career ”against his parents’ wishes”; illustrative designer-artists whom he abhorred; photographers he knew and admired; and photographers whom he felt ”unable to catch the essence of the fashionable”. Click on the image for full view – a most  interesting name list.

 

WP_20140612_16_45_59i

On this note, entitled ”Clients whom I would have liked to dress… sometimes could have but did not” there is a brilliant who-is-who and comments ranging from spot-on to hilarious, like:
”Maria CALLAS” Pure magic and imbued with grace. Her voice like the tone of a Stradivarius”… or
”Mick JAGGER” Sexy  bastard, can wear and/or make everything  and  everybody”.
Again, click on image for full view.

WP_20140612_16_48_57i

WP_20140612_17_03_15i

Sweet dreams are made of this… Ball gown, 1954. Emerald green silk satin. Only two were produced. One of them stole my heart.

”Brancusi has his medium; Picasso, Faulkner,  Shostakovich, theirs. Mine happens to be cloth”
Charles James

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York
Charles James: Beyond Fashion
Until 10th August 2014

Photographs by Konstantinos Implikian

Viewed on 12 June 2014