Supporting the Project “Stephen Burrows: a retrospective” in New York, USA

Project location: UNITED STATES, New York City
Project start date: June 2012 - Project end date: June 2013
Project number: 2012-051
Beneficiary: Museum of the City of New York

 
The Museum of the City of New York proposes to curate and present the first major museum exhibition on the career of the influential African American designer Stephen Burrows in early 2013. The exhibition will explore the life story, creative output, and significance of this three-time Coty Award winner through original garments, drawings, photographs, ephemera, and video. Praised by Halston as "one of the unrecognized geniuses of the fashion world," in the 1970s Burrows dressed celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Liza Minelli; since his comeback in 2002, his work has been worn by such fashion as Naomi Watts and Oprah.
But more than that, Burrows, whose work was previously featured in the Museum of the City of New York's 2006 exhibition, Black Style Now, helped to create the look of the downtown scene in the 1970s, and he has continued to influence American design ever since. Significantly, he was also the first African American fashion designer to achieve international acclaim. The exhibition will highlight his design innovations and the multiple twists of his career, from his early triumph at Bendel's in 1970 to his triumphant return to the fashion world in the new century.

A highlight of the exhibition, which received a grant from the NPF, will be approximately 40-50 vintage dresses and outfits by Burrows, along with original design drawings, which together illustrate his creative contributions to American fashion. His designs, which quickly became the iconic look for New York's downtown club scene, earned him praise as an American original - his work characterized by asymmetrical and geometrical designs, bright colors, and fluid cuts.
These garments will be complemented by photographs of his runway shows and the display of ephemera from his career - including invitations, advertisements, and the considerable press coverage that his work received in publications such as New York Magazine, The New York Times, Rags, Vogue, and Women's Wear Daily. Material on view will come from the Museum of the City of New York's Costume and Textile Collection, FIT, Burrows's personal atelier archive, and private collectors.
Importantly, the exhibition will also be a window into New York City in the 1970s. Burrows's designs, which bridged the handwork of the 1960s and the liberation of the disco era, were strongly influenced by the movement and music of the era. As journalist Robin Givhan wrote, his work captured "nonchalance, effervescence and sweaty indulgence in matte jersey dresses that looked best on lithe young women slouched in the corner of a disco in the wee hours of the morning." His exuberant, easy-care work perfectly suited the fast-paced career-into-evening lifestyle of the 1970s. In the words of fashion writer Anne-Marie Schiro, "while other designers are looking backward ... Burrows is very much of the nineteen-seventies. The girl he designs for is young, daring, eager to experiment and individual."
On view for a period of five months in the Museum's landmark building on Fifth Avenue's iconic Museum Mile, Stephen Burrows: A Retrospective is expected to attract over 150,000 visitors and receive major press attention. Similar exhibitions at the Museum, including Black Style Now, Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity, Paris/New York: Design Fashion Culture 1925-1940, and Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style, have yielded rave reviews in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, and The New Yorker, among other national and international publications.

On view for a period of five months in the Museum's landmark building on Fifth Avenue's iconic Museum Mile, Stephen Burrows: A Retrospective is expected to attract over 150,000 visitors and receive major press attention. Similar exhibitions at the Museum, including Black Style Now, Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity, Paris/New York: Design Fashion Culture 1925-1940, and Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style, have yielded rave reviews in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, and The New Yorker, among other national and international publications.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a host of educational and public programs, including programs for New York City school children organized by the Museum's Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children's Center. All programs will be free for children who attend school in the Museum's home neighbourhood of East Harlem.

The Museum of the City of New York, unique in its position as an interpreter of the city and its rich history, educates the public about the New York City's distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum has welcomed visitors from the city, the region, and the world to its landmark building in East Harlem on Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile for nearly 80 years. The Museum presents about a dozen special exhibitions each year and has a strong track record of presenting well-reviewed, well-attended, and substantial historical exhibitions - many with accompanying publications that present significant new scholarship. Exhibitions as diverse as Robert Moses and the Modern City, The High Style of Dorothy Draper, Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson, and America's Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York presented new interpretations on topics that in turn informed a deeper understanding of important periods in the city's history and evolution. These exhibitions, their companion books, and accompanying public programs make complex ideas accessible to a broad public without reducing their sophistication or nuance - and exemplify the Museum's role as interpreter and intermediary between the scholarly community and other communities of people who have an interest in the future of the city.
The Museum holds an important Costume and Textile Collection of more than 27,000 objects that chronicle the stylistic evolution of the nation's fashion capital, the work of New York designers, and the emergence of the garment industry, along with key moments and personalities in the city's history; highlights include over one hundred garments by Charles Frederick Worth; the work of leading New York designers such as Claire McCardell, Mainbocher, Vera Maxwell, Norman Norell, and Valentina; along with garments and accessories worn in New York by major figures in New York society, politics, and the arts.


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