Bring On the Short Skirts
Valerie Steele (Ph.D., Yale University) is Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). She has curated more than 20 exhibitions in the past ten years, including Love & War: The Weaponized Woman; The Corset: Fashioning the Body; London Fashion (which won the first Richard Martin Award for best costume exhibition from The Costume Society of America); Femme Fatale: Fashion in Fin-de-Siècle Paris; China Chic: East Meets West; and Form Follows Fashion.Editor-in-chief of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture (Berg Publishers), which she founded in 1997, Dr. Steele is also the author of numerous books, including The Black Dress (Harper Collins, 2007), Ralph Rucci (Yale University Press, 2006); The Corset: A Cultural History (Yale University Press, 2001); Paris Fashion (Oxford University, 1988; revised edition, Berg Publishers, 1999); Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now (Yale University Press, 1997; Paris; Adam Biro, 1998); Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power (Oxford University Press, 1996); and Women of Fashion: 20th-Century Designers (Rizzoli, 1991).
She was editor-in-chief of the three-volume Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (Scribners, 2005.)Her latest book and publication are both titled Gothic: Dark Glamour (Yale University Press in conjunction with FIT, 2008).
Dr. Steele lectures frequently and has appeared on many television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Undressed: The Story of Fashion. After she appeared on the PBS special, The Way We Wear, she was described in The Washington Post as one of “fashion’s brainiest women.” Often quoted in media, she was herself the subject of a profile in Forbes (1992): “Fashion Professor,” and in The New York Times (1999): “High-Heeled Historian.”
Topic: New York Fashion Week recap
Valerie Steele: New York Fashion Week is the first of almost a month of Fashion Weeks around the western world. It’s followed by London, Milan, and Paris. And they have additional Fashion Weeks in Tokyo, and Johannesburg, and elsewhere. But New York Fashion Week sort of kicks it off in the fall. And we certain see that the upcoming season, they are predicting short skirts, so presumably someone hopes that that old myth about the economy gets better and hemlines go up will hold true. Maybe if we bring the hemlines up, the economy will improve.
Nowadays, it is hard to track any one set of trends because ever since the 1970’s there have been so many different kinds of designers. It’s no longer the way it was in the past where you could say there’s one new look and everybody has to fall in line. So, depending on which designers you go to, you’ll see somewhat different trends. But I think, for example, if you looked at say the Calvin Klein show with Francisco Costa-- that was all about pale colors and interesting textiles. It looked somewhat rustic, but is in fact a very sophisticated kind of textiles that give a loose easygoing approach. And in general, this kind of the skirt but with a loose flowing body to the dress, that’s something we’ve seen at a number of places. So, even someone like Narcisco Rodriguez, who tends to go very close to the body, very body conscious-- even he was somewhat looser. He might have sort of a racer back that was a little body exposing, but then the rest of the dress was sort of free floating and very summery and pretty.
Question: What are the differences between the major fashion weeks?
Valerie Steele: New York has the reputation for being more practical, more sporty, London for being sort of out there, Italy for being sexy, and also sort of luxurious, but no difficult to wear; and Paris for being the most high-fashion, the most conceptual and the most international. It used to be said that America just copied Paris. And in the past, to a considerable extent, that was true, and I think that was really one of the reasons why they moved it so New York Fashion Week was first, and then you couldn’t say, “Oh New York is just copying Paris because it was launching the whole season.” I think, in general, a lot of the most wearable, and this year some of the most affordable things, are going to be coming out of New York.
Topic: The problem with Fashion Week
Valerie Steele: The time lag between Fashion Week and when the clothes hit the stores is a huge and growing problem. It used to be that, although it was the same amount of time, you didn’t really know so much in advance. And now you see it within hours of the show, it’s on the internet, then it’s in the magazines and people are bombarded with information, but by the time it hits the stores, it’s really sort of the next Fashion Week. And people are getting tired of waiting. They’d rather jump in and catch the trends as they are produced by fast fashion houses. So sooner or later, I think there will have to be a reorganization whereby there will be less of a time lag and we will see the clothes and the clothes will arrive in the stores more quickly. And you will be able to also buy them closer to the season because right now, we are seeing the spring/summer clothes in September/October, they’ll hit the stores in sort of, early spring, and there’s this huge time lag.
September 24, 2009
Fashion historian Valerie Steele recaps New York Fashion Week 2009, outlining its major shortcoming.
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