Cynthia Rowley Talks Art at SAM

The artist formerly known as a fashion designer talks to the fuzzy suit guy, Nick Cave, about what we we wear and what we see and how we think and who we are. There’s a trunk show, too.

By Laura Cassidy March 24, 2011


In February 2010, after showing her Fall presentation during New York Fashion Week, American designer Cynthia Rowley headed to the Gagosian Shop on Madison Avenue (on of the city’s artiest and toniest art enterprises) where a ‘Cynthia Rowley for Gagosian’ collection was being debuted.

The collection didn’t consist of clothing, but rather wearable photographic reproductions of a dozen or so runway looks. Each look was printed in a run of 100 photographs, front and back, full scale, numbered, and labeled.

“It’s not art…it’s a concept,” explained Rowley, via a press release, at the time. The concept, which was meant as a response to fashion’s constant concern about dead time between runway shows and retail availability, riffed on the practice of making and selling lithographs in galleries and museums. “The real takeaway of most shows is the images. We’re appropriating those images back onto the garment, which you can own the same day,” said the designer.

Another takeaway: The neatly packaged think-piece on art and fashion.

I’m sharing this with you now, more than a year later, because Rowley will be at Seattle Art Museum on Wednesday March 30 from 7 to 8 having a conversation with the artist Nick Cave. You’re invited to listen in as they talk about the ways that these disciplines intersect and interact with each other.

As evidenced by the Gagosian example (and two more in the brief slideshow here), Rowley does more than put out pretty clothes. In fact, it’s worth noting that oftentimes, even when she is merely making pretty clothes, she’s asking women to walk and talk inside op art and slashed Gothic romances. Her’s is a line about that’s about ladylike explorations of shape and texture, but Rowley adds more depth and dimension to the overall message via her interest in and connection to art.

More on those connections: Those who depend on various forms of retail therapy should know that Rowley and her husband, the gallerist, editor-at-large, and sometime Bravo TV reality show host Bill Powers, launched Exhibition A, a sort of Gilt Group for visual art up-and-comers and those who want to collect their work. Count Terence Koh, David LaChapelle, Richard Phillips, and Olivier Zahm among those who have been featured.

Now, not to complicate matters, but I need to to also tell you that there will also be a Cynthia Rowley trunk show on the same evening, Wednesday March 30, at Promesse in Kirkland, from 6 to 8. A rep from the line will be there to dispense styling tips and the like. The line is not currently available in Seattle or on the Eastside, but perhaps that will change.

This would be a good time to tell you that the SAM event is sold-out.

But you’ve got options: The discussion will be available via a free simulcast; seating for the satellite event is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. And then there’s the trunk show. Which isn’t an opportunity to see Rowley and hear her discuss heady ideas, but if your interest is piqued, it sure beats sitting home and clicking through runway images.

In any case, because it’s so unlikely that everyone who wants to be there will actually be able to be there; I’ll be meeting with Ms. Rowley before the event, and I promise to report back.

Stay tuned.

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