BY SASS BROWN
The color of brides, baptisms and bed linen
White is a powerful color, or lack there of, although not actually devoid of all color, but is in fact, as Isaac Newton proved by passing light through a series of prisms, color is present in white, merely in balanced proportion. The opposite of black, which contains all colors, the two opposites do however share some of the same, as well as the opposite meanings. White in the West is the color of new beginnings; of wedding gowns, of confirmations and baptism, the color of hope; of angels, of doctors uniforms and priests robes, and the color of purity; as in fresh snow, and tiny flowers that grow in the Austrian alps.
Language is often a good indicator of the cultural significance of a word. If you consider terms that include the word white in the English language, it’s easy to understand its symbolism; white magic – good magic, white hats – good guys, white knight – well, he saves poor defenseless maidens. A white tie event is the most important of formal of events. A white dove symbolizes peace. A white wedding dress symbolizes the purity of the bride. A white lie –despite lies being bad, well, white ones aren’t nearly as bad! White people – of course they’re all good! The White House – well they do no wrong, right? Or maybe that was just the hope when they decided what color to make it. A white paper is an authoritative paper. White hope, a symbol of racial pride in sports, well that’s the politically correct version anyway.
White is also the color of crisp bed linen, pillowcases, handkerchiefs and undershirts, and wedding trousseau’s. In Elizabethan England, when bathing was still considered a danger to the health, the crisp white collars and cuffs of undershirts peaking out from a neckline or sleeve, was the sign of nobility. With heavily embroidered silk doublets and dresses rarely washed, the daily changing of under layers, and all the laundering that implies, was a luxury only those with servants could afford. The importation of the finest linens also had a significant cost attached, and pure cotton from India was something only the privileged few could afford.
In the East, the opposite meanings apply, white is the color associated with the death of the body and the freeing of the spirit, the color of funerals, another new beginning in its way, just not an earthly one; color is for the living, none for the dead. In some African countries too, white is symbolic of the dessert where little survives, while black symbolizes the nutrient rich Nile river mud, full of life.
Designers of course understand the power and symbolism of color only too well, used as they are to eliciting emotion from the power of their designs, in which color plays an important role. These are just some of the designers mixing craft, art, artisanship and the symbolism of white.
MAYER Peace collection reinterprets delicate and painstakingly embroidered trousseaus of beautiful bed linen into crisp tailored jackets with a vintage military twist, and layered milkmaid skirts with more than a nod to traditional peasant dress, carefully coordinated for one of the best examples of upcycled materials in high fashion today.
Alabama Chanin is of course famous for her incredible work mostly with cotton jersey, raising the humble material of the everyday T-shirt into pieces of pure art and craft, paying homage to her roots in Florence, Alabama, while producing a modern heritage collection that you want to preserve and pass on as heirlooms. The detail of her hand stitched techniques, self on self screen-printing and embroidery have to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Danish designer Barbara i Gongini is a master of avant-garde high fashion. Creating breath taking monochromatic fashions through cut, silhouette and texture, creating infinite depth to her work. Her wrapping, twisting, draping, shredding and eccentric cutting is magnificent, a true artist using fashion as her medium, she designs for a post apocalyptic world.
Elena Garcia has a highly sophisticated, esoteric aesthetic with a vintage like respect for couture process. Creating one-of-a-kind pieces using traditional techniques and luxurious eco friendly textiles, Garcia specializes in the technique of nuno felting, where pieces of raw fleece are needled into a base fabric, creating texture through the use of different materials, but also through the shrinkage of the fleece, producing additional volume in the silk base fabric.
K/ma–a Viennese label—that embodies the fusion of fashion, art and performance, while producing a beautiful, functional, wearable collection. Consistently working with non-traditional and discarded materials, they hand craft one of a kind pieces. This piece made from tiny scraps of cotton jersey, with a layer of fleece sandwiched between a jersey lining, the entirety crazy stitched together then heat treated to make the fleece shrink, causing the jersey to gather in the process.
Andrea Zittel is a California based sculptor and installation artist, whose work is an ongoing experiment and exploration in living. Starting of her uniform project in the early 90’s as a pragmatic response to her situation, as well as a commentary on fashion, she produced a single garment to wear for each season, working through a myriad of techniques till she arrived at felting. This piece shown here has wonderful organic lava lamp holes as if the whole is dripping slowly off the body.
Rita in Palma is a youthful Berlin based label, specializing in very fine and colorful crochet. Working with Turkish immigrants, the two young designers reinterpret the fine skills of the women into contemporary and delicate crochet collars and accessories, with a sense of whimsy and drama.
Frocky Jack Morgan was a World War 1 veteran from North Carolina who liked wearing a house-dress because, well as he put it “Jesus wore a dress”. Such is the inspiration behind the label of the same name, which specializes in deconstructing and embellishing extra ordinary antique pieces, into new equally as extra-ordinary one-of-a-kind pieces for men and women, with a sense of history and craft. Working predominately with a neutral palette, FJM focus on the rich textures of their work.
Credits & Links:
MAYER Peace Collection photos by Billy & Hells – www.mayer-berlin.com/
Alabama Chanin photo by Robert Rausch – http://alabamachanin.com/
k/ma photo courtesy of Katha Harrer – www.kmamode.com/
Rita in Palma photo by Mirium Lutz – http://ritainpalma.com/
Barbara I Gongini photo courtesy of Barbara I Gongini – www.barbaraigongini.dk/
Elena Garcia photos by Hannah Radley-Bennett – www.elenagarciastudio.com/
Frocky Jack Morgan photo by Brianne Wills – www.frockyjackmorgan.com/
Andrea Zittel photo courtesy of the Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York – www.zittel.org/
More from writer Sass Brown is available at www.ecofashiontalk.com