The photographs and activism of Kwame Brathwaite are an excellent companion to the Rudi Gernreich show at the Skirball Center. Brathwaite was a photographer, an activist, a jazz promoter in the sixties and a believer that natural hair and African inspired fashion was necessary to supplant an exclusively white energy (eg Gernreich and the other white designers) however forward thinking they might be. He helped debunk the straightened hair and lighter skin models who had given black women largely unattainable role models.
Rudi Gernreich, a gay Viennese Jew emigrated to the US and found a place first in the world of modern dance (Lester Horton, Bella Lewitsky et al) and then in fashion. At the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, where Gernreich made his home, a retrospective is smart and stylish. Known for his knit, often patterned dresses, mini skirts, jumpsuits and bathing suits, Gernreich went his own way with model-muses like Peggy Moffitt in tow. Like Mary Quant, he felt women had been constrained by fashion and his dance background made constriction and uplift a thing of the past. Also like Quant he understood marketing and packaging, speaking to a demographic that was young, politically active and eager to make its own mark. The sixties were about those barriers falling away and the fashion still feels fresh and contemporary. Bring back sixties activism!
Plaid, tweed, cashmere, tartans. Scotland’s museums are filled with examples of the most luscious stuff. I searched far and wide for some vintage Pringle cashmere cardigans but I think they have all been sent to the US. Bring back Scottish cashmere, the Chinese version is so third rate by comparison. Remember the wonderful Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Met? Now I understand why it was so important to him.
The Mary Quant exhibition at the V and A shows off a holistic designer whose ideas about everything from fabric content to how make up should be packaged to the needs of modern young women was part and parcel of what she thought her role as a change agent was. A striking difference from how Christian Dior thought how women should be packaged in an adjacent exhibition. What a difference a decade made.
A Mary Quant retrospective opens in London at the V and A today. Along with Biba, her stores were THE place to get your clothes. Quant was designing in the height of the sixties- The Doors, The Stones, the Beatles and Hendrix all released new albums. But at the same time the Apollo 1 astronauts went up in flames, we doubled down in Vietnam, and the middle east erupted in the Six Day War. Quant was untrained but understood that stretchy knits and tights were the way forward.
Image courtesy the V and A