In Fashion, What's New by Christine Galasso

Everyone’s heard of counter-culture, but The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) is bringing Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture to its visitors, opening tomorrow (March 2nd) in New York and running through August 20.

Often referred to as the hippie movement, the Counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s swept away the conformism of the previous decades and professed an alternative lifestyle whose effects still resonate today. This cultural moment was epitomized by unique manifestations of handmade fashion and personal style. The exhibition celebrates this work with displays from artists in the 1960s and ’70s who fought for change by sewing, embroidering, quilting, patch-working, and tie-dyeing their identity. With today’s political climate and obsession of music festivals, the look and movement are more relevant than ever.

Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture displays garments, jewelry, and accessories by American makers who crafted the very reality they craved, on the margins of society and yet at the center of an epochal shift. The works on display reflect the ethos of a generation of Counterculturists who—against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement—rejected ideals of the American Dream that were rooted in consumerism and conformity, and interrogated a political establishment invested in maintaining the status quo. They embraced the vision of a new, homegrown civilization rooted in self-expression, self-reliance, an affirmative connection to nature, and ideas of love and community that deviated from the values of the traditional nuclear family.

Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture was organized by the Bellevue Arts Museum and curated by Guest Curator Michael Cepress. It was secured for the Museum of Arts and Design by William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator Shannon R. Stratton with the support of Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford.

“Artists such as Kaisik Wong and The Cockettes put craft and the handmade at the center of their daily revolution,” said Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford, “wearing garments, jewelry, and personal accessories not only as forms of wearable art, but also as inextricable symbols of their personal and political allegiances. Each artist acted as celebrant and author of America’s Counterculture movement.”


Featured artists represented in the exhibition include Kaisik Wong, who evoked disparate cultures, time periods, and aesthetics in his sculptural silhouettes, transforming the body into an otherworldly, iridescent carapace. Art Nouveau, Eastern religions, and ancient mysticism all echo throughout his remarkable creations. His client list included performers and socialites such as Tina Turner, Elton John, Dodie Rosekrans, and Ann Getty. Salvador Dalí celebrated the complexities and surrealism of Wong’s style by commissioning the “Ray” series (1974), which can be viewed in the exhibition.

Hippie globetrotter from Sweden by way of England, France, and Ibiza 100% Birgitta (Birgitta Bjerke), whose colorful crocheted pieces, which combine a kaleidoscopic sense of color with humor, ostentatiousness, and wearability, allowed for an easy transition into the Counterculture of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her fashions could be seen on the Paris runways as well as on the backs of The Who and the Grateful Dead.

Alexandra Jacopetti Hart joined a thriving culture of Beat-era poets, musicians, and artists in the 1960s. Psychedelic drugs, experiments in communal living, and spiritual exploration fueled her creative voice. In 1974, she wrote the book Native Funk & Flash, from which this exhibition was developed. After its release, she co-founded Folkwear Patterns, a global and vintage clothing pattern company. Her Afghan Nomad Dress (1975), made of faded velvet theater curtain, antique silk thread embroidery, and metallic thread, is exemplary of her work.

Partners Alex & Lee used found objects in their elaborate jewelry pieces to reflect the anti-materialistic hippie creed of recycling and repurposing. Regularly incorporating stones, minerals, shells, lobster claws, feathers, and even monkey fur, they upheld jewelry as an art form, and echoed the revolution experienced by the discipline in the 1960s.

Apple Cobbler (Mickey McGowan) saw footwear as unexplored creative territory and approached his medium as a craftsman, purposely using non-animal materials and working on one pair of shoes at a time. The layered, multicolored foam soles and pliable fabric structures of his designs were especially popular with California rock-and-roll drummers who embraced their comfort, flexibility, and style.

Dina Knapp was one of a group of students at New York’s Pratt Institute in the late 1960s who turned their attention to wearable art, using crochet as a vehicle for artistic expression. Multicolor Beret and Rasta Tam, examples of her early work, reference the Jamaican flag and were popularized by the musician Bob Marley, who could be seen wearing one of her creations throughout his life.


Exhibition Tour with Guest Curator Michael Cepress and Artist Fayette Hauser
Thursday, March 2, 2017 – 6:00 pm
Free with Pay-What-You-Wish Admission
4th and 5th floor galleries

Discover the new exhibition Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture with a tour led by Guest Curator Michael Cepress and featured artist Fayette Hauser, a founder of the famed San Francisco–based theater troupe The Cockettes. Celebrating the handmade fashion and style of the 1960s and ’70s, Cepress and Hauser will offer personal and historical interpretations of garments, jewelry, and accessories by American makers who crafted the very reality they craved, on the margins of society and yet at the center of an epochal shift.

Following the tour, visitors are invited to attend a panel discussion in The Theater at MAD, featuring textile and fashion expert Andrea Aranow in conversation with Cepress, Hauser, and Alexandra Jacopetti Hart, author of the influential 1974 style guide Native Funk & Flash: An Emerging Folk Art.

Counter-Couture Panel Discussion
Thursday, March 2, 2017 – 7:00 pm
$10 general / $5 members and students
The Theater at MAD
Click here to purchase tickets