Futurist Fashion 1933


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Giacamo Balla, “Futurist Embroidered Waistcoat,” 1924-25. Biagiotti Cigna Foundation

Fashion exists as a system of signifiers.

Roland Barthes, The Fashion System

I am reading a fantastic book edited by Cristina Giorcelli and Paula Rabinowitz called Accessorizing the Body that charts the intimate connections between body and the shoe, the hat, the handbag, sunglasses, and other form of accessories throughout history. The cultural, political, and social expression of fashion continues to inspire my scholarship.

In Futurist Accessories, Franca Zoccoli delineates the importance of accessories such as ties, hats, and shoes in the aesthetics of the Italian Futurist movement. Here’s an excerpt from F. T. Marinetti’s Il Manifesto futuristo del cappello italiano (The futurist Manifesto of the Italian hat) from the Gazzetta del Popolo published on February 26, 1933.

1.We condemn the Nordic use of black and neutral colors, which bring a muddy stagnant melancholy to the rainy, snowy and foggy streets of the city making it look as if there are enormous logs, boulders, and turtles being swept along in a brown deluge.

2.We condemn the traditional, passatist headgear that is so out of touch with the aesthetics, the practicality, and the speed of our great mechanical civilization. For example, the pretentious top hat that prevents fast movement and attracts funerals. In August when the Italian streets are full of blinding light and torrid silence, the black or gray hat of the man in the street drifts above, dreary as dung. Color! Color is needed to compete with the sun of Italy.

3.We propose the Futurist functionality of the hat, which until today has been of little or no use to Man, but which from the day forth must illuminate him, mark him, take care of him, defend him, make him faster, and cheer him etc. We will create the following type of hat…:

1.The velocity hat (for everyday wear); 2.The night hat (for evening wear); 3. The luxury hat (for parades); 4.The aero-sport hat; 5.The sun hat; 6.The rain hat; 7.The mountain hat; 8.The sea hat; 9.The defense hat; 10.The poetic hat; 11.The advertising hat; 12.The simultaneous hat; 13.The plastic hat; 14.The tactile hat; 15.The light signal hat; 16.The sound hat; 17.The radio-telephone hat; 18.The therapeutic hat (resin, camphor, or menthol with a band moderating cosmic waves) 19.The automatic greeting hat (with a system of infared rays) 20.The intelligent making hat for idiots who criticize this manifesto. 

They will be made of felt, velvet, straw, cork, lightweight metals, glass, celluloid, compounds, hide, sponge, fiber, neon-tubing, etc. either separately or combines.

The colorful nature of these hats will being the flavor of huge dishes of fruit and the luxury of huge jewelry shops to the streets. The streets at night will be perfumed and illuminated by melodious currents which will destroy forever the tired-out sentimentality for moonlight.  

I love when he accuses the top hat of attracting funerals and of course how #20 is for the idiots who criticize his manifesto!

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Illustration by Giacomo Balla to accompany his 1914 manifesto Il vestito antineutrale






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While in Pittsburgh, I was thrilled to catch Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede at the Warhol museum. As an ardent admirer of both Halston and Warhol, this exhibit seemed to be curated just for me!

The press release:

The exhibition examines the interconnected lives and creative practices of Andy Warhol and Halston – two American icons who had a profound impact on the development of 20th century art and fashion.  Organized by The Andy Warhol Museum and Lesley Frowick (the niece of Halston), the exhibition integrates Halston’s garments and accessories with photography, video and paintings by Warhol.

Not only did Halston collect Warhol’s artwork, which he displayed in his 63rd Street Manhattan townhouse and Montauk retreat rented from Warhol, but Halston was also portrayed in several of Warhol’s artworks.  In 1979, Warhol dedicated a chapter of his book, Andy Warhol’s Exposures, to Halston, describing him as the ‘first All-American fashion designer.’

The exhibition will include approximately 40 of Halston’s creations including an iconic pillbox hat designed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1961, and his signature Ultrasuede shirtdress, juxtaposed with Warhol’s paintings, photographs, and videos.  It will also feature archival material and ephemera from the archives of The Warhol and the personal collection of Lesley Frowick relating to the two artists’ practices

A beautifully rendered timeline documenting the lives and careers of Halston and Warhol illuminates striking parallels between to the two artists. Both men worked in fashion early in their careers (hat design for Halston, illustration for Warhol), became wildly successful in New York, and went on to international acclaim. As American artists, both underwent a type of transformation and evolved to exist in a unique atmosphere at the nexus of art and celebrity.

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By the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s both men were no longer people, but seemed to exist as visual “personas”, Warhol as the eccentric artist with a shock of white hair (widely known to be a wig) and camera permanently in hand, and Halston as the sophisticated designer in black turtleneck and mirrored sunglasses forever surrounded by a flurry of models. This exhibit strips away many cliches that the passage of time has added to and hardened regarding these men.

Both artists became as famous for their words as their work:


What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke. Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too.


I think everybody should have furs, jewels, and Andy Warhol paintings.

That both Halston and Warhol discovered high/low cultural connections in various facets of their work also radiates throughout this exhibit. Warhol took everyday objects like soup cans and images of celebrities and transformed them into colorful larger-than-life renderings. Halston took the glamour of his design work to everything from fragrance, carpets, the girl scouts and JC Penney. While the latter ultimately led to Halston’s demise as a business, today fashion has a very symbiotic relationship with mass-retail as demonstrated by Philip Lim for Target,  Alexander Wang for H&M, and even Nicki Minaj for Kmart.

Other highlights of this exhibit include mounted ipads in which one can swipe through unseen Halston sketches for celebrity clients (including Martha Graham), Warhol’s original prints for (and of ) Halston, and rare photographs of Halston at Warhol’s Montauk home.

I salute and revere these two American artists!






I suggest you run to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to catch Charles James: Beyond Fashion to witness the most innovative display of breathtaking dresses I have ever seen. Upon entering, one is confronted with a constellation of beautiful ball gowns floating in the dark. Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder have organized this stunning show, with design by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro. The architects employ technological feats of magic that pinpoint seams, zoom in on fabric texture, display x-ray images to reveal inner construction, and animate flat pieces of fabric that wondrously fall into the garment with breathtaking effect.

The erotic power of James’ work is fully felt (due in part to the dramatic lighting) and the dresses are in many ways sensual sculptures which protect, reveal, and imbue the wearer with a certain power. James’ work as a milliner is apparent as he clearly thinks in 3-dimensions as an architect does. His understanding of fabric, cut, and gravity are astounding and the man was clearly a genius. The way he cut fabric to create as few seams as possible for the most dramatic effect is spellbinding. His vast knowledge of fashion history is revealed in his clever use of previous silhouettes and shapes, often combining unrelated styles in a surprising way.

That Charles James was an incredibly well-read, culturally astute, detail-oriented, and forward-thinking is made clear in this exhibit. This is an artist who worked in fashion. I particularly enjoyed reading some typed pages James left for assistants, or wrote in preparation for a memoir. One page listed artist whom he respected and admired (Dali) and others whom he abhorred (Erte). Another listed celebrities he may have had the chance to dress but missed out and would still love to including Ava Gardner, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. Another page had descriptions of dresses listing inspirations drawing on Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and Pioret, but also detailing how the patterns could be maintained and cut for mass-production at Bergdorf’s.

Charles James was idolized by Halston, and their careers hold many parallels. Halston also started as a milliner and was knows for innovative cuts and draping of fabric. After Halston became successful, he contacted James and presented a large retrospective of his work in 1969. The two men worked together on Halston’s 1970 collection and Halston likened their relationship to the manner in which Balenciaga helped Givenchy. The collection was panned, resulting in the evaporation of their professional and personal friendship. Apparently James was loathe to speak about Halston and very bitter after their collaboration.

The video below shows Halston introducing a Charles James exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1982. He obviously still greatly admired and respected James, even after his death:




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CR Fashion Book Issue #2 DANCE

On June 10th I met with some aspiring models taking part in a day of workshops with the fantastic industry professional, Karen Lee. I worked with them on finding their breath, releasing tension, and using their hands. It was so fun and I was happy to share my passion for movement and shape with these beautiful creatures. They made some great physical discoveries and implemented new tools for their work. I’m looking forward to working with the fabulous Karen in the future, and also deepening my knowledge about the needs of models, stylists, and photographers, and streamlining my physical and compositional skill set to help them enhance their work. Dance and fashion are inextricably linked and I would love to continue to explore this relation. The recent CR Fashion Book by the glorious Carine Roitfeld comes to mind, as does Coco Rocha (a former Irish dancer), Halston and Martha Graham, Chanel and Diaghilev. To fashion! To dance!