Hot pants. Bell bottoms. Mini skirts. Long skirts. Hand knits. Flat knits. Real fur. Faux fur. The fashion world is always changing. It starts with runway models strutting down the walk with very expensive clothes cut for their very thin bodies. It is fashion as art, not fashion as wearables for the masses. Still there is a trickle down factor when these pieces are economically replicated or “knocked off” (as the garment trade refers to them) and sold in a range of sizes to women eagerly waiting for their inner fashionista to be sated.
But there is also a writhing pulse of extraordinary fashion right on the street. New York City streets, that is. Bill Cunningham built his career capturing the wild and wonderful, the sublime and the ridiculous; people in their everyday lives wearing the extraordinary. His blue eyes are trained to spot the exceptional and he quickly shoots the photos that are later posted in the Style section of the New York Times. At 82 years old, he weaves his way in and out of traffic, bicycling around Manhattan to galas, events, fashion shows and parties. However he is notably positioned at the corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue watching and snapping candid yet legendary photos that are visual statements of both fashion bravado and wearable art. “It isn’t what I think, it’s what I see,” Mr. Cunningham says.“I let the street speak to me. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is.”
Just released, Bill Cunningham New York is a brilliant 88 minute documentary that captures the essence of Bill’s stunning and singular career. Directed by Richard Press, it is a unique gift to those who wish to relish the success of eccentricity and talent.
It takes a combination of artful passion and courage to create fashion as a visual expression without attention to the buying audience. Fashion companies approach it in reverse. But Roberto Capucci is a brilliant and talented renegade and, at age 82, he has sustained his vision his way to achieve enormous success.
The first US compilation of his work featuring over 80 pieces as well as drawings is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and titled Roberto Capucci: Art Into Fashion. Capucci synergizes fabric, form, color and texture to sculpt the body silhouette. With an artist’s vision and an architect’s mind, he folds, layers and pleats fabric to create magical unforgettable dress forms. In fact, a woman choosing to purchase a piece from his collection (there is no duplication or alterations), must fit into it and realize that, when worn, she is a secondary element to her three dimensional fabric art The movement generated by wearing a Capucci enhances its allure in space; all rotations spin different views as it gracefully moves and turns with the wearer. Although he also designs daywear as well as accessories such as shoes and perfume, it was his museum quality costumes that have won him the Medal of Gold of Venice at age 26 and led to designing one-of-a-kind dresses for the most influential and affluent Europeans as well as American movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson. "Having been a student of fine arts I perhaps ended up in fashion by mistake," says Capucci. "My dresses belong more to the art world than the world of fashion, but this has been my destiny."
Sometimes we can change our destiny. Judith Leiber was living in Nazi occupied Budapest and instead of being exterminated because she was Jewish, she became a survivor by escaping with her family to Switzerland.
Right after the war, she met and married an American soldier, Gerson Leiber, and they moved to the United States in 1948. After working for various handbag companies, she started her own business in 1963 with Gerson’s help. Now her spectacular handbags are one of the most sought after luxury brands and an elite status symbol owned by royalty, celebrities and First Ladies. Beverly Sills, the opera singer, was known to have a collection of almost 200 of Leiber purses. All of these artful handbags are meticulously crafted and beautifully styled. Leiber is well known for her minaudieres, which are usually covered in crystals and some with an animal theme can cost in excess of $5000. Recognized for her iconic work with numerous awards, she remarks “I was the first woman to receive a Coty Award, and it was the first time it had been given to anyone for a handbag.” Her unique purse designs are on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. And in their own Leiber Collection Museum in East Hampton, established in 2005, which showcases hundreds of her handbags in addition to her husband’s art and their unique collection of Chinese porcelains.
In 1993, Judith sold her business to a London based company. She says “Half the success of a business is luck, and the other half is talent, and I managed to put that together, so we were very fortunate.” Now at age 89, she owns about 900 of her own bags although she created approximately 3500 different styles and says “We would love to have them all”.
All three of these talented octogenarians have sustained a long career in making fashion interesting and important. Their legacy lies in their devotion to their art form, their approach to making their work accessible and their vision that propels them forward so fashion history can be captured again and again.
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.Coco Chanel