How many of us mere mortals had heard of Jason Wu before Michelle Obama chose him to create that frothy off-the-shoulder gown she wore for the inaugural ball? With that dress, Wu became a household name. And how about the magenta silk sheath Michelle wore on the cover of Vogue? Another Jason Wu design.
Wu is just one of the Asian American fashionistas whose work is shaping the way we dress and think about clothes. Now the Wing Luke Museum’s smart new exhibition Fashion: Workroom to Runway connects Seattle designers like Gei Chan, Malia Peoples (aka Lady Konnyaku) and Luly Yang to the world of international style and the work of celebrities such as Wu, Josie Natori, Vivienne Tam and Harold Koda, the influential curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.
You’ll see intriguing pieces on loan from local collections—Luly Yang’s butterfly-inspired Monarch dress and two of Gei Chan’s 1970s vintage Gunne Sax frocks among them—and also learn the gritty facts about the way much of our clothing gets made.
Fashion makes it clear that today’s design trendsetters stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of sweatshop laborers. The show tells the story of Seattle’s garment industry and the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian women who worked the sewing machines at C.C. Filson, Eddie Bauer, Seattle Quilt, REI and other companies, before most of that work was shipped to cheaper labor overseas. We learn the hidden cost of all those alluring, inexpensive clothes that now pack department store racks: from mistreated, poorly paid workers to environmental pollution and burgeoning landfills. Fashion gets you thinking about how the way we shop and the way we dress affects the rest of the world.
That’s a lot. And it makes Fashion a perfect example of how this little museum in the International District has gotten it right. While Seattle Art Museum and Bellevue Art Museum have struggled post-expansion to redefine their identities and their goals, the Wing stayed true to its mission of representing the Asian Pacific American Experience. The museum’s thoughtfully repurposed building—a former hotel for immigrant workers—not only houses current art and history exhibitions but retains some of the original rooms and an old storefront intact, as windows into the neighborhood’s multicultural past.
Exhibitions at the Wing always start close to home, with local artists and local history, and expand to place that work in a broader context. The museum’s other recently opened special exhibition focuses on mid-20th-century furniture designer George Nakashima, a Spokane native and graduate of the University of Washington. Nakashima melded traditional Japanese workmanship with modernist design to become a leader of the American craft movement. His furniture honors the trees it came from, often incorporating the raw forms of the wood in the design. You’ll see examples of his graceful tables and chairs, the finely done sketches and architectural drawings that preceded them, and a view into his woodworking studio, with the tools of joinery.
These two exhibitions sit nicely together and provide an introduction to Seattle culture that locals and tourists alike could learn something from.
Fashion: Workroom to Runway
Thru Apr 21, 2013
George Nakashima: A Master’s Furniture and Philosophy
Thru Jan 20, 2013