As a 15-year-old living in Central Wisconsin, Michael Cepress discovered a book in his high school library that would shape the direction and scope of his career. Native Funk and Flash, the 1974 exploration of 1960s and ’70s hippie counterculture fashion by Alexandra Jacopetti and Jerry Wainwright, is a snapshot seen through the eyes of its artisans. “Through that book I realized that clothing is more than just something we put on to protect our bodies,” recalls Cepress, now a clothing designer and University of Washington instructor. From there he dove into a lifelong research project on the era, studying the key players and their impact on the Renaissance-esque American movement.
Five years ago he set out to meet them. Thus began an adventure in chasing down 40-year-old phone numbers, knocking on doors, sifting through people’s attics—people like Mary Ann Schildknecht, whose embroidered ensemble appears in Native Funk and Flash; she learned the technique from nuns while held in an Italian prison in the early ’70s.
Dubbed Counter-Couture: Fashioning Identity in the American Counterculture, the resulting exhibit—occupying the entire 8,000-square-foot third floor of Bellevue Arts Museum this fall—unearths handmade clothing and accessories from hippie glory days, pulled from the trunks of its artisans as well as museums like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Expect hand-studded denim jackets, rainbow platforms, and tie-dyed concert backdrops. The show also contains histories, biographies, cultural commentaries—but at its core, the message is about how clothing and our sartorial choices become a direct expression of our inner selves on display for the world. “This era in particular shows an entire movement of people interested in celebrating and sharing their own voices through dress,” says Cepress, “and the clothes on display are, in my opinion, amongst the most soulful and expressive garments ever made.”
Want more? See more details about the show here, and take a peek at some pieces from the exhibit below.