Fashion’s ‘Quilty’ Pleasure

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2019 Couture
Viktor & Rolf Fall 2019 Couture
Photo: Thempression.com

Fashion is nothing if not cyclical. Among those things that periodically have their moment in the sun are quilts and patchwork which were given the star treatment at Viktor & Rolf’s fall 2019 couture show in Paris.

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2019 Couture
Viktor & Rolf Fall 2019 Couture
Photo: Theimpression.com

The tangible folkloric undertone which played out on recent runways is evidence that consumers are yearning for something colorful, rustic, naïve, artisanal, and handmade. And it’s not limited to the rarefied world of the couture.

Kara Grey Quilted Small Backpack
Kara Grey Quilted Small Backpack

Kara is label known for its hip, cool, minimal bags with a streetwise edge. Many of the designs are adorned with pronounced biker chains. They recently unveiled their ‘Sentimental Value’ pre-fall 2019 collection and included was a group of 5 timeless and nostalgia-laden limited edition patchwork backpacks priced from $450 – $525. Made from handpicked repurposed vintage quilts sourced here in New York each one is unique and one of a kind.

The fact that two of the styles have quickly sold out, and the others have limited availability speaks volumes about their customers’ longing for items that are authentic and handmade. Something is definitely in the air.

 Gloria Vanderbilt's quilt laden room
Gloria Vanderbilt’s quilt laden room

It’s almost impossible to think of the late Gloria Vanderbilt, who passed away on June 17, without immediately thinking of quilts. Gloria, who was known for her love of collages and quilts dabbled in interior design. She even had an entire room decorated with them.

Valentinos patchwork dress- from fall l2015 recalls Gloria Vanderbilt's ensemble
Valentino’s patchwork dress from fall 2015 recalls Gloria Vanderbilt’s ensemble
Photo: Vogue.com

In 2015, Vogue connected the dots between Vanderbilt’s affinity for patchwork and a dress that was shown on the Valentino runway. The Valentino fall 2015 ready-to-wear collection, designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, featured several outstanding geometric, Klimt inspired quilt pieces.

Gloria, an unwitting muse, marveled at how extraordinary it was that “something as simple as quilts from America suddenly began to relate to Russia and the East, to become exotic and mysterious when used in a certain way.”

 The Calvin Klein store reimagined with quilts and Andy Warhol's art
The Calvin Klein store reimagined with quilts and Andy Warhol’s art

When Raf Simons was appointed to be the designer and creative director of Calvin Klein in 2016, his immediate goal was to re-establish the label’s aesthetic and place within American culture. One way he ensured the brand would stay true to its all American heritage was by integrating traditional folklore into his collection.

CALVINKLEIN205W39NYC Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear
CALVINKLEIN205W39NYC Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Vogue.com

The Calvin Klein, Madison Avenue store, began selling one of a kind, hand-selected historical quilts from across the United States. Quilts, co-designed by American artist Sterling Ruby, were also inventively incorporated into the fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection.

 Kardashian Jenner Family appears in Calvin Klein ad campaign
Kardashian Jenner Family appears in Calvin Klein ad campaign

Members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, reposing on a striking red and white quilt, clad in underwear and denim, were featured in an ad campaign for Calvin Klein underwear. The evolved #MYCALVINS concept was intended to put the spotlight on family; the traditional American quilt symbolized the strong bond between individuals. The injection of sex appeal into something generally considered as comfy, cozy, and homespun was inspired.

It was hardly surprising that in 2018, Simons was honored by the American Folk Art Museum for his role in preserving American heritage through the brand’s designs—particularly with regards to his incorporation of quilts.

The American Folk Art Museum (www.folkartmuseum.org) is at the forefront of the movement to bring recognition to quilts as a significant art form with deep roots in American life and experience. Their exhibition “Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art,” which ran from January 21 – April 23, 2014, effectively explored the ongoing relationship between inspiration and creation.

A design by ThreeASFOUR and the Friendship Star quilt it was inspired by
A design by ThreeASFOUR and the Friendship Star quilt it was inspired by
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

Thirteen established and emerging designers were asked to create original ensembles inspired by a selection chosen from the museum’s permanent collection. They were displayed alongside the original.

 Koos Van Den Akker with his collaged dress photograph by Marilyn Kirschner
Koos Van Den Akker with his collaged dress
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

Included was John Bartlett, Michael Bastian, Chadwick Bell, Creatures of the Wind (Christopher Peters and Shane Gabier), Gary Graham, Catherine Malandrino, Bibhu Mohapatra, NotEqual (Fabio Costa), Ronaldus Shamask, threeASFOUR (Gabi Asfour, Angela Donhauser, Adi Gil), Yeohlee (Yeohlee Teng), Jean Yu, and Koos Van den Akker, the undisputed master of collaged, patchwork designs.

Balenciaga Spring 2002 ready-to-wear
Balenciaga Spring 2002 ready-to-wear
Photo: Vogue.com

Koos, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 75, was a craftsman and a tailor who regularly worked with his sewing machine. He was the acknowledged inspiration for Nicolas Ghesquiere’s quilt laden Fall 2002 collection. His pieces are collector’s items and still available on vintage websites.

Last year, this beloved institution received a gift of 21 quilts from renowned collectors Werner and Karen Gundersheimer. Each one is a graphically striking example of what the couple calls “wall power.” The upcoming exhibition WALL POWER! Opens on August 6 and runs through September 21. What great timing!

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Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. What a great article Marilyn!!! Such a variety of superb examples given !!! Love your inspired reporting!

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