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Chadwick Bell
The designer The ensemble
Explore Bell’s process

b. 1982, Southern California

Chadwick Bell’s bold white garment, a translation of a whitework quilt, alludes to the neoclassical inclination toward pure and classical forms when the c. 1800–1820 bed cover was made—a reaction against the opulence of the preceding baroque and rococo eras. His use of white also references the white surfaces of Greek and Roman sculpture—a “terrible” misconception, he explained, as classical statues were painted in vibrant, even garish colors. “There was this idea of the white surfaces, but those sculptures were actually painted. My use of white is kind of a play on what was really happening with what really happened.” It is within this complex context that Bell presents the purity and simplicity of his all-white ensemble.

While conceptualizing his design, Bell noticed that the forms of the cornucopias in the quilt bore a resemblance to curving shapes and elaborate detailing of paisleys, a likeness he attributed to the intense cultural and economic exchange between Europe, Asia, and America during the nineteenth century. “There was a lot of trading happening at the time and a lot of [materials] from India coming over, so you have the paisley motif that was being dispersed around the world and that had an influence on this quilt,” Bell explained. Inspired by this similarity between the motifs, Bell hand-quilted the paisley pattern onto the cloth. It is the austerity of this garment that links Bell’s design for this project to the collections he thoughtfully presents every season.

Fabio Costa(NotEqual)
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1983, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The inspiration behind Fabio Costa’s ensemble was a weathered religious woodcarving of a bleeding heart encircled by arrows and a 1796 white cotton quilt with a tree of life motif and elaborate stuffwork and quilting. Costa hand-quilted and stuffed the tree of life elements on the capelet and the skirt. He understands the motif as the center of life, and the sacred heart as the ultimate symbol of the Immaculate Conception. For the designer, both the tree and the heart relate to the notion of the feminine as the source of life.

Costa designed this ensemble employing a new measurement and pattern system based on the golden ratio. Artists and architects have used the golden ratio, particularly the golden rectangle, to create works of art and construct buildings that are aesthetically pleasing. “I have two rulers that I made,” Costa explained. “They are based on proportions that are perfect, beautiful, and harmonic.” Using these two rulers, Costa traces squares and rectangles that become the patterns for dresses, shirts, and pants. “It goes back to a more organic way of fitting, organic way of dressing.” In this respect, Costa works with only two clothing sizes, one and two, which fit all body types: “Different body types will give the shape to the garments created with this measurement.”

Gary Graham
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1969, Wilmington, Delaware

Gary Graham’s background is in costume and textile design; he is familiar with quilting, embroidery, and patchwork techniques. He selected an early nineteenth-century coverlet with a stars-and-snowballs motif as the inspiration for his Jacquard-engineered coat-dress ensemble. The coatdress recalls early nineteenth-century men’s tailoring, while the garment’s unfinished hems and lapels lend a modern feel that is typical of Graham’s style.

The fabric for this ensemble was woven on a Jacquard loom at the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence, where Graham and his team documented the intricate and unique weaving process. “We recorded everything, because the Jacquard loom there is amazing. It is in this garage and it is really phenomenal.” For his design, Graham meticulously wove the fabric for each individual pattern piece separately. One of the biggest challenges was achieving the right size and scale of the motif for each pattern piece, in order to give the ensemble depth and a modern feel. The result is an innovative pattern of stars and snowballs that decreases in size as the eye travels upward from the hem of the coatdress: “It really should look as if it’s rocketing up.”


Catherine Malandrino

The designer The ensemble

b. 1963, Grenoble, France

Catherine Malandrino’s designs combine the craftsmanship of French couture with the coolness of New York street style. Malandrino started her career in Paris designing for Emanuel Ungaro and Dorothée Bis. In 1996 she moved to New York, where she designed for Diane Von Furstenberg, and presented her first signature collection two years later. Her iconic Flag Dress, a garment featuring the American flag, won her much acclaim and put her on the fashion map in 2001. “I wanted to create an homage to the America that was making me dream about freedom, individuality, risk, fun, and opened space,” the designer told Women’s Wear Daily in 2008.

An all-white, turn-of-the-century papercut with Odd Fellows symbols was the jumping-off point for the asymmetrical crochet handkerchief dress Malandrino presents in Folk Couture. Her goal for the ensemble is to encourage positive feelings. “The spirit of the paper cut means to me to elevate the character of mankind by promoting friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, and charity,” the designer said, alluding to the principles of the fraternal organization. “This dress is an ultimate love message.”

The Designer
The Ensemble
The Inspiration
The designer The ensemble
Explore threeASFOUR’s process

Gabi Asfour b. 1966, Beirut, Lebanon
Angela Donhauserb. 1971, Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Adi Gil b. 1974, Tel Aviv, Israel

Gabi Asfour, Angela Donhauser, and Adi Gil, the fashion designers that make up threeASFOUR, first met in 1997. At that time, Donhauser and Gil were already a styling team, having worked for magazines and on music videos, while Asfour was producing a clothing line for Kate Spade. The design collective drew the attention of the art circuit almost immediately. “We had our first show in 1999 down here in Chinatown and then we started being part of New York fashion. We also had offers from the art world to do exhibitions, and we got involved in art,” Asfour said. The futuristic dress that threeASFOUR designed for Folk Couture is an extension of the concept behind an art installation the trio created for a recent exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York. “We were working with patterns and tiling systems from different cultures. In a way, tiling is a unifying system of communication, of geometry, of sending messages out—in this case, sending messages through the tiles of churches, mosques, and synagogues.”

The six-pointed star motif repeated in the Friendship Star Quilt inspired the creation of this dress. “We liked the quilt because it has the Star of David, but it was not made by Jewish people, it was done by Quaker women as a sign of friendship in Pennsylvania in the 1800s.” The dress is made from three layers of laser-cut flower-print patent leather over white Spandex power mesh. Each layer is pierced with one of three religious symbols: the Jewish, the Islamic, or the Christian star. “You have the Christian pattern, a four-pointed star, and then the Islamic one, based on the five-pointed star, and the Jewish, [which] is based on the six-pointed star. When you put them together, they create this new pattern,” Asfour explained. The shape of the sleeves is reminiscent of the gauze wings worn by women at the back of their heads during the Elizabethan period, while the laser cuts reference the mashrabiya, an ornate screen characteristic of North African homes that can be considered the architectural equivalent of a veil.



Creatures of the Wind

The designer The ensemble

Shane Gabier b. 1973, Chicago
Christopher Peters b. 1984, Chicago

Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters met at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in the fashion design department: Gabier was a professor and Peters was a student. Together they launched Creatures of the Wind in 2007. Their designs favor an unassuming aesthetic. “There is a kind of outsider quality we like,” Peters told W Magazine in 2009.

While exploring the artworks from the museum’s collection selected for this project, Gabier and Peters came upon the work of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. The duo was particularly inspired by a photograph the artist took of his wife, Marie. “It was a serendipitous moment, as we were both already very familiar with his work. It seemed natural, if not predetermined, that we should work from his photographs to develop our piece for Folk Couture,” the designers explained in a statement. Von Bruenchenhein, who worked in many mediums, obsessively took pictures of Marie posed much like a Hollywood pinup of the mid-twentieth century, with garments and backdrops often containing dense floral patterns. The tight bodice of their dress is reminiscent of the strapless dress Marie wears in the photograph, and the palm trees printed on the skirt loosely resemble the flower-print backdrop. “As we avoid direct visual reference, the link from the original work to the final garment can be found in the atmosphere and feeling.” Indeed, the color and texture of this dress is a free interpretation of Von Bruenchenhein’s composition.

The Designers
The Ensemble
The Inspiration
Bibhu Mohapatra
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1972, Rourkela, Odisha, India

A pocket-sized tattoo pattern book piqued the interest of Bibhu Mohapatra. “What really inspired me was that every page you flip becomes sort of a new history that is based on the drawings,” he said. Mohapatra also identified with the book on a personal level, as he too once filled his sketchbook with drawings of dresses while studying economics in Utah—until a professor urged him to pursue a career in fashion. Mohapatra tried to envision the state of mind of the unidentified artist, probably a sailor. “The tattoo book basically is the only sort of interaction he has in the sea, which is a big vast wall of emptiness and solitude. . . . As a result, this woman appears who is a sort of loved one but also part of his reality, this vast body of water.”

Mohapatra’s delicate dress of aquamarine organza resembles waves. The black fleur-de-lis lace bodysuit underneath references tattoo designs. “She looks as if she has tattoos all over her body and this wave of organza is floating over. It is a dream, it is a reality, and it is also a fantasy.” Mohapatra’s biggest challenge was to create a soft, unstructured gown—to capture the essence of the ever-changing surface of the sea—that still supported the body. Therefore, he employed a number of draping techniques to create the gown’s buoyant volume and fluidity along with exquisite finishing. “I love tailoring, but at the same time there is something about the freedom of fluid clothes that I really love.”



John Bartlett
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1963, Ohio

A highly stylized painted wood figure of a man in a green shirt with white suspenders and shiny metal buttons served as the inspiration for John Bartlett’s green polka-dot ensemble. The rigidity and extreme slenderness of the figure is reflected in the flatness and exaggerated scale of Bartlett’s design; its arms and legs attain fairytale proportions. The suit can be considered as engaging in a conversation with both Joseph Beuys’s iconic Felt Suit (1969), which the German artist modeled after his own clothes, and the art installations of Beverly Semmes, who creates dramatically long dresses that, when hung on walls, poetically evoke the female body.

Since men’s clothing tends to be more conservative and less fanciful than those of women, menswear designers are often restricted to working within extremely narrow parameters. Perhaps it is for this reason that Bartlett chose to explore scale and wearability in his design—an exercise in experimentation and freedom. “I quilted the entire ensemble together myself. I haven’t worked on a sewing machine for years, so it was a thrill to quilt the entire piece. Very liberating and completely imperfect!”

Ronaldus Shamask
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1945, Amsterdam

Ronaldus Shamask, who has been dubbed “the fashion monk” for his austere silhouettes, was struck by the power and simplicity of James Castle’s drawing of a blue jacket. “All simple things are very complex,” Shamask explains. “Folk art is so simple and sophisticated at the same time.” Castle, who was born profoundly deaf and lived in an insular community in a rural area of Boise, Idaho, produced powerful drawings, assemblages, and books made out of found material. Although he did not participate in the art system (art schools, galleries, museums), his work nevertheless employs strategies related to art movements of the twentieth century. Castle’s drawing inspired Shamask to design three garments for Folk Couture, the shapes of which are intended to resemble kites. “I had designed these as real garments. Then I thought, ‘they look like really beautiful kites.’” These ‘multipurpose’ garments convey a sense of humor and surprise that Shamask links to vernacular art. “The emphasis is on the details. What is important is always totally unexpected. It is distortion.”



Michael Bastian
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1965, Lyons, New York

“I’m actually really obsessed with folk art and the American Folk Art Museum,” said menswear designer Michael Bastian, who continually revisits the theme of American identity in his collections and who feels particularly close to the museum’s objects. “It’s the sense of humor, or the fabric we use, or the way we put them together, or the fit. I like to think that we are exploring this idea of American men in the twenty-first century and what that means.”

For Folk Couture, Bastian selected a group of sculptural works. He modeled his ensemble after a late nineteenth-century countertop shop figure of a man in a black suit and top hat, with additional inspiration coming from a sheet-metal weathervane and tenth anniversary tin in the form of a top hat and a pair of eyeglasses. Bastian was fascinated by the way the artists approached their mediums—particularly the metal, as this is not a material fashion designers commonly embrace. When creating his design, Bastian worked with the theme of metal both literally and figuratively. The wool-possum blend sweater has shiny black thread intricately woven into the yarns at the base, and a replica of the museum’s iconic Archangel Gabriel Weathervane on a piece of metallic suede appliquéd to its front. The vintage top hat, knit hood with built-in earmuffs, and modern shades are a translation of the tin hat and eyeglasses. Bastian worked with a black-and-gray striped fabric for the jacket and pants; for the designer, this fabric captures the essence of the 1860s in America. The boots were a collaboration between Bastian and Quoddy, the revered Maine shoemaker that has been producing handsewn moccasins since 1909.

Yeohlee Teng
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1955, Malaysia

Yeohlee Teng was drawn to the playfulness of four carved animals from the museum’s collection: a ram, a coyote, a Jackalope, and a dog. “These animals are very magical and you know they are handmade, so I’m celebrating the woodcarving,” Teng explained. To create her Shamanistic Printed Prayer Flag Dress of Brown Kraft Paper, Teng took informal photographs of the carved animals in the museum’s storage facility, printed the images on sheets of hand-cut Kraft paper, a material that is in constant use in her design room, and assembled them in tiled layers that form three concentric circles. The construction is based on math and geometry, and the paper is machine- and hand-stitched. What results is an interesting contrast between the fragility of the ensemble and the rough-hewn and spontaneous look of the carved animals that she captured in the snapshots. The figures were photographed at specific angles, deliberately forcing the viewer to look at these works through the designer’s perspective. “You are asking people, if they are good observers, to contemplate the wood forms because you are presenting them at so many different angles and perspectives and relationships that a thoughtful viewer will get a lot out of it.” The artworks reflect the joyous spirit Teng wants to convey with this dress. “It would be really good if [the dress] appeals to the child inside everyone,” she said.

Koos van den Akker
The designer The ensemble
Explore van den Akker’s process

b. 1939, The Hague, Netherlands

“I paint with fabrics; that’s basically my inspiration.” Koos van den Akker was prompted to move to New York because of his fascination with the glamour in American films like How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). “One day I took the boat and I came here. I was 27. And I knew how to make clothes from A to Z,” said van den Akker, who had previously worked for the house of Christian Dior in Paris. For his first American customers, the designer produced a simple shift dress. “I had a portable sewing machine. Then, it was all [André] Courrèges. You could make that style of dress in three, four hours, and so I did.” Since that time, van den Akker has been a prolific designer. “I’m a craftsman. I’m a seamstress. I really sit in front of my sewing machine every day from six in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon and I make clothes.”

Five very different artworks served to inspire the designer’s shimmery, colorful gown: a mid-eighteenth-century schoolgirl crewelwork picture, two portraits of women from the early nineteenth century, a twentieth-century painting of an industrial cityscape, and a contemporary wall hanging constructed of antique and vintage kimonos. Van den Akker collaged images of the artworks into fabric of his own design, which is embellished with transparent sequins. His aim was to translate his notion of folk art into the language of couture. “I think folk art is the fact that I made the gown so it is just me and the doll and the fabric. And I think that is very original,” he said. “I really wanted to show the artworks in the most glamorous way. That’s why I chose the fabric with this shiny finish.”

Jean Yu
The designer The ensemble
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b. 1968, South Korea

Jean Yu selected a New Mexican carved wood Porcupine as her inspiration to create a black chiffon dress with a surprising straw adornment protruding from the back. “What I like about Porcupine is that kind of tension, the modern and the primal. It gives me the kind of quality that I associate with folk art.” In fact, many of Yu’s ensembles have this animalistic quality, which the designer readily relates to sexuality. “I’m quite Freudian in that I think that everything distills to sex and procreation, which for me is a function of securing humanity.” The playful quality of the museum object influenced her selection, as well: “It is something that I’m attracted to, because it brings an interplay. Let’s do playful things, sexy things. It brings people closer to you.”

For Yu, the creation of a dress is a process akin to survival. “I have to sit with an idea for a long time. I sketch the same thing, shifting a little in the proportions, putting this in this way instead of that way. It is like chewing on something. You just chew on it until it is ready to be swallowed.” For her ensemble, the designer used the softness of chiffon, an engaging material, and the contrasting coarseness of the straw to represent the mischievous quality she finds in Porcupine. “With the Porcupine, you want to touch because it is such soft fur, but it also has this defense mechanism: not too close.” In Yu’s aesthetic, “modern,” another element of the dress, relates to a process of distilling and capturing the essence of a certain element. “To take everything away except that which you want to focus on—that, for me, is modern,” she said.