Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fashion Week's Deep Sea Adventure (Complete With Champagne, Limousines and Japanese Paparazzi)

(NEW YORK) Veteran NYC fashion designer and multimedia artist Susan Cianciolo doesn't consider herself a designer, but rather an "artist who occasionally makes clothing,".

Not that Cianciolo doesn't have the chops to become as big a design force as her Parsons' classmates Mark Badgley and James Mischka; in fact, she helped launch their line upon graduation from Parsons, before branching off to help create Kim Gordon's influential X-Girl clothing line in 1995.

Despite never having become a household word like her aforementioned classmates, Cianciolo has nonetheless remained an influential creative force in the fashion world, designing clothes and costumes for musicians and artists, while creating occasional collections constructed from organic and "re-purposed" fabrics.

Cianciolo's garments are custom-made at her loft in Chinatown, and can be ordered via her website,

While Cianciolo won't divulge the names of the artists and performers with whom she works, one can find her aesthetic when looking at recent images of Bjork, MGMT, Yoko Ono, Antony and the Johnsons, and Annie, to name a few.

Cianciolo's FW 2010 collection, inspired by deep-sea photos from the National Geographic, was presented as one element in a group show incorporating photography, clothing and sculpture, the sculpture in question being the accessories. I guess you could count the models' extravagant up-dos as sculpture also, but no credits were given for these individual works of art. However, a quick visit backstage revealed makeup artist Christopher Drummond touching up the models' hair, so maybe he's the mystery artist behind the hair sculpture.

The collection, part of a show called Underneath the Sea, Inside a Mountain was presented Tuesday night at SoHo's White Box Gallery, where, inside, throngs of Japanese paparazzi huddled around a slab-like, rectangular plinth dominating the center of the room. The black-clad Japanese paparazzi army, with their intimidating equipment, made some lesser-equipped photographers feel a bit abashed, but we soldiered on bravely, snapping away with our humble Nikon point-and-shoots (which don't work very well, by the way).

The paparazzi, grouped as they were in the center of the exhibition space, presented a unique reversal of their role as as media, turning them into the spectacle, as opposed to communicators. Was this intentional? Cianciolo won't say.

To present her clothes, Cianciolo had models saunter through the gallery's crowded main space, to strike poses against a blank, white wall. The small Polaroids comprising the photo exhibition didn't stand much of a chance, mounted, as they were, in sparse configurations on the gallery's front and back walls, perpendicular to the models' 'posing walls'.

The photos were small Polaroid snapshots of seascapes, fishing piers, forests, and occasional, lonely plazas, the latter of which looked vaguely South American.

Some of the photos' muted color schemes could be found in Cianciolo's collection, but, by and large, the photos got lost in the mix. White Box Gallery's cavernous white interior played the most important role in Cianciolo's presentation, establishing a bleak tableau which offset Cianciolos distressed, deconstructed compilations perfectly. 

Cianciolo's somewhat Japanese-style mash-ups, involving multiple layers of clashing silhouettes and fabrics, recalled Rei Kawakubo, Romeo Gigli, Christian Lacroix and, somehow,'80s graffiti artist Stefano Castronovo. On top of Cianciolo's anarchic compilations, mind-boggling accessories had onlookers trying to figure out what exactly the models had hanging around their necks; upon close inspection, these accessories appear to be segments of sari fabric, knotted and tied to the ends of a short fabric cord.

The "street-cast" models, of varying heights, shapes and genders added a certain grit to the show, which kept the presentation from getting too precious and too fashion-y. Cianciolo says she finds her models herself, by walking around NYC and approaching those individuals she thinks look right.

Christopher Drummond's war-paint like makeup contributed strongly towards the alleged NatGeo aesthetic inspiring the show; the makeup artist told me "backstage" (actually "backstage" was the gallery's basement exhibition space) that he and the designer pored over old issues of the magazine to get ideas, focusing on undersea shipwrecks and deep-sea marine life. Judging from the end result, however, it looks like a fair share of makeup techniques from South American native tribes made it into the show as well.