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MFA exhibit Hippie Chic blooms with gay designers

Posted by Jim Lopata  August 28, 2013 08:48 PM

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Scaasi_10. Womans Evening Dress_Arnold Scaasi.jpg
Woman's Evening Dress by Arnold Scaasi
(photo: courtesy, MFA, Boston)

by Scott Kearnan

If you still have a pair of favorite bell-bottoms tucked away in the “sentimental memories” department of your wardrobe, you may have joked once or twice that such bygone fashions would end up in a museum someday. Well, “someday” has arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, which is gearing up for the new exhibit Hippie Chic.

Running July 16 through November 11, the exhibit curates about 50 ensembles from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when pop art, psychedelia, and the Summer of Love-era counterculture converged to impact fashion: in the streets, and on the runways. And several important designers with connections to the gay community are featured in the show. If you’re a fashion expert, you’ll know of their influence; if you’re not, well, try these names on for size.

The acclaimed gay designer was famous for creating custom clothing for icons like Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Mitzi Gaynor and Mary Tyler Moore. Hippie Chic highlights a flowing evening dress from 1969 that was worn by Barbra Streisand; it’s among the hundred-plus Scaasi designs that the MFA acquired in 2009, alongside an extensive archive that included sketchbooks spanning several decades. Scaasi, 83, is one of the few gay designers represented who is still alive – and still going strong. In 2011, after the advent of equal marriage in New York, he married his partner of 50 years.

Represented in Hippie Chic by a groovy patterned dress from 1970, Clark was a British fashion designer who pioneered the billowy bohemian style of London’s “Swinging Sixties” scene. Clark succumbed to its decadent lifestyle, developing a drug addiction that cost him his business (he went bankrupt in the ‘80s and worked only sporadically after) and his life. In 1996, Clark was stabbed to death by his 29-year old boyfriend during a drug-induced psychotic episode. A tragic end, but his influential work lives on.

SantAngelo13. Woman's dress_Giorgio di Sant'Angelo.jpg

(photo: Woman's Dress by Giorgio di Sant'Angelo courtesy of MFA, Boston)
Hippie Chic boasts a 1970s dress by Sant’ Angelo that captures the way folk textiles and ethnic clothing influenced his designs. The Italian-born Sant’ Angelo learned from disparate legends, studying art under Picasso and briefly apprenticing for Walt Disney. He pioneered the use of stretch fabrics, one of many accomplishments that influenced younger designers like pal Calvin Klein — with whom Sant’ Angelo once shared a house in the Fire Island Pines.

In the 1960s the British designer reinvented Savile Row, London’s bespoke tailoring district, by a colorful and flamboyant approach that captured the “male peacock” movement: think the dandy suits of celebrity clients like Mick Jagger and Elton John. (He also designed Jack Nicholson’s purple threads for his role as The Joker in 1989’s Batman.) His irreverent twists on tradition made him a legend, though he died in 1992 from AIDS complications at the age of 49.

Halston_17. Womans ensemble_Halston.jpgHALSTON
(photo: Woman's Ensemble by Halston courtesy of MFA, Boston)
He got his start as a milliner, creating Jackie Kennedy’s famous pink pillbox hat. But by the 70s Halston (born Roy Halston Frowick) had become something far less demure: one of America’s first celebrity designers, he defined the jet setting styles of disco nightlife. (And signed a then-controversial licensing deal with JC Penney, paving the way for the H&M collaborations of the future.) The so-dubbed “velvet mafia” member was known for his own wild nights at Studio 54. He died of AIDS-related illness in 1990, but his life is explored in the 2010 documentary Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston. [x]

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About the author: Boston Spirit Magazine’s daily blog brings you all of the information you need on New England’s LGBT community. In addition to highlighting local and national LGBT news, we will also highlight local leaders from the worlds of business, politics, fashion and entertainment and keep you up-to-date on all the latest events and parties, hot spots for travel, shopping, dining, and more!

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