Friday, March 22, 2013

Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced

A 1972 Stephen Burrows dress, one of the first to feature his “lettuce” edging.

Friends, it’s not every day that you get a tour of a retrospective fashion exhibit from the featured designer himself! So I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to not only meet Stephen Burrows, whose work is the subject of a new show at The Museum of the City of New York, Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced, but also to hear him talk about the heyday of his glorious designs, from 1968 to 1983.

Dresses from the Signature section.

Mr. Burrows was the first African-American to attain international status as a designer and was one of five Americans, along with Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta invited to show in Paris in 1973 at the famous “Battle of Versailles” benefit fashion show. It pitted those five Americans against the French designers Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro and was a landmark event, showing off the innovation and creativity of American designers, who proved they could more than hold their own against the recognized French design establishment.

Burrows said a client wore this 1972 rust gown as her wedding dress, scandalizing her family!

Co-curator Phyllis Magidson called Mr. Burrows “the epitome of a New York success story.” He was born in Newark, NJ and began designing in 1966 after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He is an industry legend for his work in matte jersey, chiffon, and velvet. Mr. Burrows won three Coty Awards for his designs in 1973, 1974, and 1977, and also has a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in the Garment District in Manhattan.

Mr. Burrows pointed out this 1971 jacket as one of his favorites.

Four groupings of clothes highlight the major themes of Burrows’ career: Signatures, The Commune, Silhouettes, and Clothes That Dance, each exploring different aspects of his work in different eras, from the brightly colored unisex or “any sex” clothes in the late 1960s to the shimmery disco dolly outfits in the late 70s and early 80s.

Oh how I love this 1970 colorblocked black coat of leather, suede, and wool jersey.

The “lettuce” edge, the fluttery hem that became one of his design signatures, came out of a mistake when an assistant overstretched a featherweight jersey hem. Burrows said, “I liked the look of it. I made her do it some more and then added it to everything.” In this way, his signature design detail was born.

Other signatures of Burrows include emphasis on draping, slinky, body-defining silhouettes, colorblocking, heavy use of metallics, and a red zigzag stitch at the seams.

The clothes on view were all made in New York City, in the Garment District, “Right there on 39th Street,” Burrows told me.

From the Silhouette section. I love the 1972 green and pink ensemble!


Burrows said he feels that colors don’t have to go together. Isn’t this 1972 ensemble amazing?

From 1969-71, these belong to one collector who has stored them lovingly in his NYC apartment.

Clothes That Dance. Make mine the gold mesh halter and red skirt!

Farrah Fawcett wore this gold mesh ensemble to the 1977 Oscars. The skirt is 18 lbs!

Some of his clients included Cher, Farrah Fawcett, Jerry Hall, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, and Barbra Streisand. And he was not only making clothes for the disco-set, he was one of them. It was great fun to listen to him and guest curator Daniela Morera reminisce about the good times they had at Studio 54, as well as Le Jardin and The Loft, clubs that pre-dated Studio 54. Morera noted that she has known Burrows for 40 years, after meeting him at a mutual friend’s party, and that Burrows “is a fantastic dancer, that’s how we became friends, we were dancing together.”

It’s a fitting statement for a show that feels like a fabulous disco dance party from the second you walk in.

Studio 54, anyone?

Stephen Burrows and guest curator Daniela Morera at the press preview.

Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced is on view until July 28, 2013.

The Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street)
New York NY 10029

6 comments:

The Dainty Dolls House said...

Wow, so marvellous! Lucky you :) Have a great weekend xx

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

SO JEALOUS!! I often wished I lived in New York...it is mega cool that you got to do this...love the post...love the pictures...love it all...and will dream about the black coat!! Thanks for taking us on this tour, Jill! Amazing!

Lynn said...

I saw the ad for this show in the Ne York Times, and was thrilled that I would actually be in New York to see it. Your wonderful review has made me even more excited. Thanks!

Paula Ruta said...

I loved the color blocked ones too! He looks great, no?

I swear I remember when farrah wore that dress..

thevintagetraveler said...

What an incredible exhibition, and how lucky you were to get to be there with Burrows himself.

Lisa said...

Oh my goodness are these outfits beautiful.