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“Seattle Style Fashion/Function”

Fashion? Seattle? Clara Berg, Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles, started her introduction to the latest exhibition at MOHAI, with the response she got when she said she was curating a show on Seattle fashion. I must admit that I have often felt that way myself, especially after moving here from Dallas, Texas where women are extremely fashion conscious and well groomed.

But now I see how wrong I was. We not only have fashion—we have invented a lot of fashion!

Of course, a good percentage of our inventions are outdoor wear. Nordstrom, the major sponsor of the exhibition, began when John W. Nordstrom made money in Alaska during the Gold Rush. As we all know he started out with shoes. Clothing did not come until the 1960s. Eddie Bauer developed the down jacket after he had a near death experience. Ski and hiking outfits for women, use of Gore-Tex for jackets, the development of fleece from recycled plastic bottles (is that still true?), grunge, and those amazing Utilikilts! We have lots of fashion in Seattle.

And we also have our share in high fashion clothing. As we enter the show at MOHAI, we first see a batik patterned jacket by John Doyle Bishop worn when he was nationally recognized as one of the 100 most fashionable men in America in 1967. Setting the fashion/function theme of the show, Doyle’s jacket is juxtaposed to a wool ski ensemble from 1948 designed by the Seattle Wool Company.

Salish Pattern Wool Blanket, 2018. Louie Gong, maker. Eighth Generation, maker and retailer. © MOHAI Collection

Hi fashion continues into the presence. Luly Yang Couture creates unique dresses with luscious fabrics and patterns. Included in the exhibition is her Blue Morpho Gown, a cascade of fabric sparkling with crystals and a blue butterfly motif. In contrast, contemporary Indigenous artist and founder of the store 8th Gen Louie Gong contributed a boldly patterned wool blanket cape of wool.

There are four cleverly organized sections: Nature and Place, Growth and Aspiration, Northwest Casual, Innovators and Rule Breakers. In each section we have a mix of eras, styles, ideas, and types of garments that dazzle us with color, and designs. I suggest wandering around to allow surprises to come upon you unexpectedly. One of the more prosaic styles, a skirt and blouse, caught my eye with its Seattle Center inspired patterns, the Space Needle, Monorail etc, created in honor of our World’s Fair. A peculiar looking black dress turned out to be a 1907 sidesaddle riding habit. Interspersed throughout the four sections, you can discover elaborate hats, such as “The Fascinator” of 1950s by Ethel Young and the “two-toned oxfords” shoes from 1930s Nordstrom. In honor of today’s tech culture, we have the “Cellular Automata” knit scarf of 2018 by KnitYak featuring computer programming code!

Enhancing the garments is a video from the Wing Luke Museum on the Asian women who worked in the garment industry here, and a short clip of a Black fashion show sponsored by Vogue. One of the most prominent of the photographs posted throughout the exhibition was DeCharlene Williams, a well-known mover and shaker as well as fashion maven in the Central District until her death in 2018. She is listed as a member of the Advisory Committee for the exhibition.

I commend Clara Berg and MOHAI for ensuring diversity in the exhibition. I am sure their collection is dominated by the gifts of beautiful clothes from elite women. But Fashion/Function embraces many communities in Seattle, from a replica of the cedar hat worn by Chief Seattle woven by his descendant to the African inspired cape worn by the Reverend Samuel B. McKinney.

The museum is also having some great workshops with the exhibition. We already missed a few, but on June 1 is (Re)Fashion Clothing Repair Fair, on June 22, Behind the Seams: Fashioning the Ideal Body, and on June 26, Cocktails and Clothing: Designing Sustainable Fashion.

Museum of History and Industry

“Seattle Style Fashion/Function,” through Oct 14, 2019

860 Terry Ave N, Seattle WA, 98109, 206-324-1126

~Susan Platt

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