I was first introduced to the storytelling style of fashion historian Kathleen McDermott while attending MassArt in Boston. I was her student and her class was enthralling. Through her stories of past fashion and slide show imagery I learned the importance of fashion beyond its aesthetic appeal. I learned it’s importance politically, socially, and it’s standing within a zeitgeist. Her teachings helped to further my passion for design and to look deeper into my inspirations when creating a collection. With all of that said I was so excited when Kathleen agreed to an interview about fashion and her latest project, A Diva’s Dozen.
How long does it take to complete research when you have decided on an era or subject to look into?
My research is ongoing, teaching Fashion History at MassArt for 16 years as well as having an interest in beauty and exploring the perceptions of beauty over my lifetime has made it a part of my everyday. For my current project, Diva’s Dozen, I did a concentrated three years of research.
What is your favorite fashion era and why?
I don’t have a particular era that is my favorite. I enjoy the beauty of any era and it’s aesthetic coherence or Zeitgeist. Everything is relevant- graphic design, architecture, etc, it all melds together to create a look of the time, a feel; and fashion played a huge role in that feeling, that role is the part of fashion I love. Coherency is wished for, followed and wanted in our era, although fashion now has no coherence.
In the 20’s Chanel created the Little Black Dress and introduced democratic clothing. It had no class origins and was a revolutionary garment because before that moment fashion betrayed class. The Little Black Dress allowed women freedom visually and politically. You no longer were discriminated by looks first, you could introduce yourself. It was a great fashion moment.
Claire McCardell would be my second icon of choice. During WWII Paris and America were not close, this left America in need of an identity, fashion wise. During this time the California girl, the Rancher girl, the New England girl etc. were all celebrated. But it was Claire McCardell who gave us American Sportswear, her clothing celebrated America and gave America an identity separate from Parisian fashion.
How do you view today’s fashion?
Today’s fashion is fast fashion. It’s very impressionistic of the moment. Everyone is receiving imagery so quick. Social media like Instagram has made moments fleeting and Twitter has created a “two day phenomenon” and then the fashion world is on to the next thing. Magazines are now more of a retrospect; Karl Lagerfeld was recently interviewed and he said ” he is insatiable for information…a glutton for visuals… constantly scanning”. I think that is the mode of fashion now: scanning.
What are two trends that you have seen recycled and do you think they should’ve been?
Vintage, used loosely, because what is the time frame for something to be vintage in fashion now?
Lately the 90’s are Vintage, there is a ransacking of the past with no definite direction of where it will go.
Another trend is the Eco-Conscious thread that is very prominent right now. People are being more aware of their consumption.
Where do you see fashion going next?
I have seen the trend of Celebrity as trendsetter for a while now. I believe that celebrities dictate fashion. They control the dialogue of fashion.
The makers, small designers, and seamstresses are overshadowed and although vital, not as recognized in the large fashion world.
How does Boston inspire you both research wise and artistically?
I’m historically minded and Boston facilitates that. It has a great balance of technology, intelligencia, art and history, all of which match my interests.
Can you tell me about the Diva Project?
I’ve always collected imagery of women, and as the years progressed I had a visual trove of Opera singers. The interest in the subject started with their costumes then their restrictive lifestyles, these women were icons when women were not entitled. They were idolized in the same light as Royals which was so important during this time because women had nothing, definitely no social standing. It was autonomy at its best.
How does the art solidify this project?
The art is an aesthetic feeling for me. It connects me further to the project and the beauty of the women. It is more thoughtful and less logical and linear like the research and writing. It fuels my emotional connection and love of creation.
If you had to have lunch with one Diva who would it be?
It’s had to pick just one, because they all lived such glamorous and crazy lives, and their accomplishments were so inspiring, but they weren’t free, and that clear realization makes the time we live in now in America a great one for women.
This project is a political project because our American foundation was built person by person and with so many struggles.
I’m eternally grateful to all women who came before us, these women are a collective of women we owe a lot to. So I would love a panel, but I can’t narrow it to down to one woman.
I just finished my first installment of Diva videos and also Diva Cards set. The Diva Cards featured artwork on the fronts and bios on the back. I plan to highlight 13 new Divas in 2014. Along with highlighting these new Divas I will be giving a series of storytelling performances entitled “Diva’s Cabinet of Curiosities”.
*Don’t have enough time to read through our blog posts? Join our VIP List to get monthly updates and links to the latest blog posts monthly: JOIN