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Dairyland Becomes 'A State of Fashion' at Museum of Wisconsin Art

Jul. 18, 2017
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Kat Kneevers (r) talking with Laurie Winters (l), the executive director and CEO of the Museum of Wisconsin Art, about "A State of Fashion

We must eat, we must sleep, we must wear…something. For some people this is a nonissue, solved by simply grabbing the nearest T-shirt and jeans. For others, the question of what to wear is both sport and obsession. You don’t need to be in a world capital to be part of the fashion parade these days, and the Museum of Wisconsin Art explores local connections through four exhibitions in “A State of Fashion.”

Clothing and couture exhibitions are becoming more common in art museums, as the pieces may be considered forms of wearable sculpture. This is particularly true in “Contemporary Threads: Wisconsin Fashion,” which includes 10 designers, four of whom are “Project Runway” alums.

The designers are not shy about their influences, some of which are distinctly worn on their sleeve, so to speak. Sara Terrell discloses, “If I could dress one woman in my clothing it would be Blondie singer Debbie Harry.” Her punk glam outfits also draw color and form from artists like Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky and Vincent van Gogh. Peach Carr’s modish ensembles meet her litmus test, “When designing, I ask myself: Would Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick wear this?” Linda Breshears Marcus’ elegantly poignant Coat of Arms is a yellow felt coat with a pale cotton sheath inside, upon which are embroidered names and likenesses of inspirational women, including a beautiful image of civil rights and political leader, Milwaukeean Vel Phillips.

For visitors who are not devoted fashionistas, noting the inventive materials and exquisite detail makes for a satisfying show. Miranda Levy-Adler creates clothing with clear plastic instead of fabric, and includes generous pockets—a detail that comes from her experiences as a mother. To that end, the pockets are filled with colorful alphabet letters. Alex Ulichny laboriously fastened thousands of hot pink plastic zip ties to create a stunning, fluffy full-length coat.


Designing for Children

“Contemporary Threads” represents the playful, imaginative side of fashion. A more practical side is revealed in “Florence Eiseman: Designing Childhood for the American Century.” Since the 1940s, the designs of Eiseman and her Milwaukee-based company have intended to “make a child look like a child.” Details such as appliquéd flowers, animals and toys hit this mark, but the quality material used sets these garments apart from today’s big box store apparel.

Eiseman was a pioneer in designing clothing for children with disabilities, an endeavor meant to help them to fit in while accommodating needs for movement or different types of garment closures. Even at a young age, a sense of worldly sophistication is also encouraged in things like the League of Nations dress. Made in 1964, the dark blue pinafore is sparsely decorated with small flags of different nations.

The overall Eiseman aesthetic eschews faddishness in favor of classic colors and cuts. This is also very true of the “The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit,” an assembly of clothing amassed over 100 years by the Roddis family from Marshfield, Wisconsin. The garments were passed down through generations and rediscovered as a trove of fashion history.

The oldest piece is a black velvet and satin evening dress with high neck and long sleeves, purchased in Paris around 1879 by Jane Prindle Gammon. One of the most recent pieces is an Yves Saint Laurent evening dress from 1985, worn by descendent Jane Prindle Lempereur. In between, wall text and 26 outfits tell stories of weddings and anniversaries, vacations and work, hard times as well as prosperity.

Clothing can communicate something of our character and the adventures of life. This particularly energizes “Daniel Arnold: A Paparazzo for Strangers.” The Milwaukee native, now based in New York, has taken this moniker to describe his work. He has been singled out as the “Best Photographer on Instagram” by Gawker.

Arnold’s photographs show the flickering details of New Yorkers, often in unexpected juxtapositions. In one picture, a guy rides the subway dressed in chainmail and armor, complete with giant play sword. The blue-suited businessman next to him looks the other way, inwardly sighing at the thought of another Monday. Or something like that. There are any number of possible stories here. Arnold’s photography freezes a little bit of life, reminding us of how odd, unique and fascinating people are, whether in New York, or even in a state of fashion like Wisconsin.

Through Sept. 17 at Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Ave., West Bend. To learn more, visit wisconsinart.org.

Sunday, Jun 11
Museum of Wisconsin Art


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