Textile Enthusiasm

Kansai Yamamoto for David Bowie

Like everyone, I'm sad about David Bowie's passing and grateful for the time he spent on earth. The glory of his life as a totality is the deal, how he evolved all the changes over time. But also like most everyone, if I had to pick a favorite period, it has to be Ziggy Stardust Had anyone before or since looked better on stage? Therefore I did a little obsessive digging on Kansai Yamamoto, the designer behind those Ziggy Stardust wonderful costumes, that in my sadness I am happy to share with you. 

In 1965, David Jones became David Bowie and began to study Japanese noh and kabuki theater with performance artist Lindsay Kemp at the London Dance Center. The kabuki traditions of onnagatamale actors specializing in playing women's rolesand hikinukia quick costume change when a character removes his disguises to reveal his true identityintrigued burgeoning Bowie, who of course incorporated androgyny and layers of meaningful costume in his performances to come.

Photographed by Clive Arrowsmith for Vogue UK, October 1971

Photographed by Clive Arrowsmith for Vogue UK, October 1971

Kansai Yamamoto in London

Meanwhile in Tokyo, the designer Kansai Yamamoto was developing his outré visual lexicon, drawing inspiration from geisha culture and kabuki. In May 1971, he became the first Japanese designer to present a collection abroad at the Great Gear Trading Company on the King’s Road in London. Bowie caught this show just as he was solidifying his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego, combining aspects of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed by way of Mars. It was obviously the right thing for him see at the right time. Bowie reached out to Yamamoto's stylist Yasuko Takahashi, who hooked him up with some (womenswear) pieces for his upcoming tour. 

Its wasn't until later on in 1971 that Yamamoto met Bowie face to face backstage at Radio City Music Hall after watching him perform in clothing from the London presentation. They hit it off straight away and Bowie asked Yamamoto to design all the costumes for his 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. Thus we can thank Kansai Yamamoto, an actual "some cat from Japan," for much that we have to be grateful for in Ziggy. 

The “Space Samurai” padded satin jumpsuit riffs on split-skirt hakama worn by Japanese samuri.

Photographs by Masayoshi Sukita

Photographs by Masayoshi Sukita

The "Toyko Pop" vinyl bodysuit, in addition to being an unforgettable interpretation of hakama, is the best tear away garment ever made. 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita

A close second in terms of best-ever tear-away garment might be this white cape with kanji that spells out “David Bowie” phonetically and loosely translates as, “Fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner,” so I've read. Then with a quick yank at the snaps, Bowie would reveal the fierce "Woodland Creatures" tiny jumpsuit donned beneath: 

At the Hammersmith Odeon where Bowie announced that he was retiring Ziggy Stardust.

At the Hammersmith Odeon where Bowie announced that he was retiring Ziggy Stardust.

A side note: Kate Moss got to wear this very tiny jumpsuit to accept the 2014 Brit Award for Best Male Solo Artist on behalf of Bowie. Cheating with the tights but OKayyyyyyyyy.... 

Kate Moss Wearing David Bowie's Woodland Creatures Jumpsuit by Kansai Yamamoto

Back to 1973, please!

Yamamoto was already making knit unitards before he began working with Bowie, with graphic placements that referenced full body yakuza tattoos. 

But his collaboration with Bowie was necessary to take the knit bodysuit with strategic graphic placements lewk to the other place. For example, perhaps it was Bowie, not Yamamoto, who brought asymmetry, glitter yarn, and upholstered ankle and wrist donuts to the table. It seems fair that they share attribution for this moment of creative genius. 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita

Look at them enjoying their fitting, so sweet with Yamamoto so adorable in the matching mock turtleneck!

Still enjoying, I think.

This most spacemanish outfit also looks like a jumpsuit, but no....

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita

On Mick Ronson's guitar

On Mick Ronson's guitar

The finishing touch was hair and makeup. Yamamoto designed the electric red 'do in homage to the red lion dance wig used in kabuki. And famed onnagata Tamasaburo Bando V was conscripted to teach Bowie how to apply kabuki makeup.  

After Ziggy Stardust came The Thin White Duke, with a lewk taken from Bowie's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth- not Kansai Yamamoto's territory. But Yamamoto carried on with his work in fashion and beyond. For example, fascinatingly, in 2010 he designed the Skyliner train that connects Narita Airport with central Tokyo. It's no Ziggy Stardust, but I'd take it.  


Babes of Marimekko: VUOKKO NURMESNIEMI

Portrait of Vuokko by   Juliana Harkki  .

Portrait of Vuokko by Juliana Harkki.

for Marimekko is what is best known by most. In 1953, the year she joined the company, she designed the stripe “Piccolo.” The print is comprised of one or two passes of stripes that can overlap to form a third color. This approach takes brilliant advantage of large-scale silkscreen printing, which she helped Marimekko to develop (and we now do, too). Smart minimalism and flexibility of design have been at the center of her work since.

Vuokko’s stripes were an immediate sensation. In 1956, Marimekko introduced the iconic Jokapoika (“Everyboy”) shirt as their first garment for men. Over the years, Vuokko has designed more than 300 colorways for “Piccolo” to be used for the shirts, from her original Mediterranean-inspired palette to black on white and everything in between. 

On the right here is Armi Ratia, the founder of Marimekko, in the late 1960s, out playing the model in one of the zillions of Jokapoika striped shirts she made. She, like many ladies, had no trouble borrowing from the men’s department. Though “Piccolo” was also used for garments intended for women, such as the Kivijalkamekko dress, designed by Vuokko and shown here with Ilmari Tapiovaara’s egg sculpture in 1957.

Bouffanted visitors to scorched mediterranean locales who still always pack an umbrella, grumpy teenagers also expecting rain, kiddos–everybody!–got a great striped something.

Here is Vuokko completing an installation of Marimekko goods at a gallery in Stockholm, in heels, in 1958. Bang story!

Vuokko designed other patterns and shapes for Marimekko as well, including–I was surprised to learn–Iloinen takki, that dress with patch pockets that Marimekko first made in 1960 and still makes and adult women still wear. Vuokko intended the wee pockets to hold surprise gifts for the wearer’s beau, and that’s about the extent of adult sexiness I can imagine associated with this garment.

However, her signature spare, geometric style were evident from the beginning, as you can see in her split color wool blouse of 1956 and her Ritsa apron with “Raituli” stripes of 1959. And now, these are  questionably sexy body obsfucating garments I can stand behind, absolutely.

In 1964, Vuokko left Marimekko to found her own company, Vuokko Oy, which she ran until 1988 and still runs a version of today. Left to her own devices, the body obliteration + spare geometry were turned up to full force and the vibe got super hot!

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and office/studio in Helsinki was designed from top to bottom in 1970 by her late husband Antii Nurmesniemi (who also designed, for example, the Wärtsilä coffee pot for Arabia). It is open except for the bedroom with big views of the sea. Four mezzanines, including the swimming pool level which I have not seen a picture of but would love to see a picture of, stacks of Vuokko’s floor pillows and a heated floor = heavenplace.

(those glasses)

Portrait with plants by   Anna Huovinen  .

Portrait with plants by Anna Huovinen.

-We stock the Marimekko book at the shop, and it includes a bunch of images and information about Vuokko and Marimekko overall. It is, hands-down, the book we consult most when trying to forge through a new design.

Apartamento ran a wonderful profile of Vuokko in Issue #07, featuring an interview with her and shots from her home, including the first two I posted in the series, and “I got rid of most of the seams and pleats. The Japanese say ‘Vuokko set women free.’ See, my design always starts from the fabric. I want to give the patterns a lot of solid surface, which often affects the shape of the final dress, loosening it up” and other gems. Track it down!


This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Travis Meinolf


Yeah yeah yeah! Travis and his wife Iris and their boy Louis are back in the Bay and we are hosting a TRAVIS BLANKET SHOW this Thursday, July 17th. Please come check it out! In the meantime, here are some shots of all of them at home, seeming to make blankets in the way he does actually make blankets.

Travis inherited his big loom from his grandma, who took it over from her best friend. It’s a 1920’s model from the Reed Loom Company. On it here is a blanket that Travis is working on for the show–it has a cotton warp that was dyed in Tessa Watson‘s indigo vat at the Berkeley Art Museum during The Possible show and Sally Fox’s wool that Travis works into homespun.

The homespun is spun on this spinner. Louis knows what to do. That top shot is really just a floss for that Bauhaus Archive poster that’s so great (they’re offering a similar one now, not as great but still really nice).

The other loom that Travis is working on these days is one of four of the collapsible models he made for The Possible, much like the ones he’s made and worked on publicly for years. AND YOU CAN TOO!!! Rigged up here is another plain weave blanket that will be part of the show at the shop.

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And here is a look at Thursday’s showstopper, which is also an extension of the work Travis made at the big Berkeley show. Thousands of visitors to The Possible worked on the floor looms he set up there. Their weavings were stitched together to produce reams of fabric, which Travis cut up so that swatches could be included in an edition of artists books. Here is the husk of the original, stitched on a backing fabric to make yet another blanket.

Travis will be working on one of his collapsible floor looms at the opening, and he’ll be coming by to keep working over the course of the show. Please come by yourself, meet Travis, and enjoy the show!

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog


Mah-Jong – Sweden – Socialism – Feminism – Clothes – Mah-Jong – Sweden – Socialism – Feminism – Clothes – Mah-Jong

A shot from the 1966 Mah-Jong catalog. Photo by Carl-Johan De Geer.

A shot from the 1966 Mah-Jong catalog. Photo by Carl-Johan De Geer.

These shots were all taken by Carl Johan De Geer in 1966 ad 1967, featuring his then-wife Marie-Louise and their buddies.

A group of Mah-Jong fabrics, one on Marie-Louise. I’m always a big fan of that hardware-free purse strap connection solution you see on the chevron print at the lower right.

A shot from the 1972 Mah-Jong catalog. Photograph by Johanna Hald. Takes all Swedish kinds!

A shot from the 1972 Mah-Jong catalog. Photograph by Johanna Hald. Takes all Swedish kinds!

Mah-Jong Manifesto

1.  The same design is made year after year.

2.  The materials are natural.

3.  The clothes are available for all ages and all sizes.

4.  Clothes ought to be beautiful.

5.  The clothes should be manufactured in Sweden.

Read more about it in Google Translate-ese on the website of one of the founders, Kristina Torsson (that’s her in the kerchief with the cuties in quilted snowsuits), who has kept up her own line Vamlingbolaget. There is also a book in Swedish! Looks great.

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Carl Johan De Geer

Marie-Louise & Carl Johan De Geer
Co-proprietors of the Fontessa fabric shop in Stockholm

“Ängelens bild” as a dress, wallpaper at in installation in 1990, and a bedspread in a photo taken by Carl Johan:  “Here’s what it looked like at our house, so much patterns as possible. Marie-Louise De Geer behind the newspaper.”

“Palmer” in the studio, in an retail scenario, and straight up.

“Monster” yardage in the Boo-Hooray booth at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair this year, then a shot of the fabric up close. Carl Johan designed “Monster” for 10-Gruppen in 1986. Here he is lounging on the box printed daybed with the rest of the hero posse in 1972:

Another shot of Carl Johan’s prints at the recent Boo-Hooray booth, then two looks at “Haren” (1970) and two looks at “Duvor” (1972).

Råttas barndom… (1968) and Råttas barndom… installed on a cabinet in Carl Johan’s kitchen, 1975.

Carl Johan wearing an outstanding Paco Rabanne jacket in 1967, then two looks at “Ananas” (1973).

A group of notebooks featuring Carl Johan’s vintage designs, made by Pocket Shop a few years ago, that I can’t get my hands on though I tried and a dazzling pond scene // bunnies running // tiger in the reeds print.

“Flygfiskar” (1972) in two colorways. Designed for 10-Gruppen and then cut up, I think, for the bedroom wall you see in“Mother, Father, Child” and covering a couch in a third colorway amid the sea collection of prints at the 10-Gruppen shop at Gamla Brogatan, Stockholm, in 1975. Purrrrrrrrr. This might be my favorite pattern. Hard to choose, though.

The man looks great in his own shirt designs! In 1967. Then “Den europeiska drömmen ( The European Dream)” (2004). Then“Marie-Louise, Carl-Johan, Ines Svensson…. dinner at La Coupole Paris”.

I first learned of Carl Johan De Geer’s work indirectly through 10-Gruppen, a Swedish design firm for whom he designed several prints, including my all-time favorite, “Flygfiskar,” in the early 1970s. I’ve had a picture postcard of the Flygfiskar couch up on my wall for years, hoping one day to hit on that level of loosness, scale, and joy in one of my own print designs. But I didn’t know which of group of ten had designed it….

Then I ran smack in to a whole booth devoted to Carl Johan’s photography and textiles at the LA Art Book Fair last month, and man! What a world to discover! Carl Johan Louis De Geer af Finspång—reared in a castle, flag burner, fabric designer, photographer, filmmaker, handsome man about town, radical, really unafraid of clashing. So rad.

A retrospective of his work, including film, photography, textile, painting, literature, graphics and stage design, is opening in April at Färgfabriken in Stockholm and running through the summer. Gotta get there!

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Mohnton Knitting Mills

The real nudge for our Philly road trip last week was to finally make it to the stripey shirt motherland in rural Pennsylvania, a place I have believed in and described many times over these past five years selling R.P. Miller shirts, but had never seen. I was thrilled to finally meet Gary and Scott Pleam, the current generations of the Hornberger family to run Mohnton Knitting Mills, fresh outta Mohnton, PA.

Our first order of business was to get the pronunciation of their fair town down once and for all: It’s like “Moan-ton” – “Mohan-ton” – Mohnton. Good!

The mill dates back to 1873, when Gary’s great-great grandfather Cyrus Hornberger added a water wheel to a pre-Civil War riffle foundry at 22 Main Street. As Gary put it, “We built this building and the road”, and they’ve got the timber beams to prove it. Aaron Hornberger started a hat factory there in 1878 and later added clothing. Over the years, with the Hornbergers continually at the helm, the mill evolved to specialize in the T-shirts we now sell at the shop. When Scott joined the company in 1997, he became the sixth generation in the family business.

It’s wild to see mounds of stripey shirt fabric and to think that these guys have the power (machines + know-how) to knit it from thread. The mill buys cotton yarn grown in South Carolina and knits the fabric at their factory nearby in Shillington. The fabric is washed and, if necessary, dyed in their Shoemakersville plant, then comes to the Mohnton factory that I visited to be cut and sewn into garments and shipped out.

This is Beverly. She’s worked at the mill for 46 years. She did have one other job before this one—in high school, she worked a switchboard for two days, earning $1 per day. Otherwise, she has always worked at Mohnton Knitting Mills. And man, could she pop out some neck binding and attach some tags. Zow! She was fast!

When Beverly began working, the mill was at the top of its game with over 100 employees. Sadly, despite the great quality and completely reasonable price of their products, the mill has not been immune to the hardships of U.S. manufacturing. They are now down to just 20 employees and sell a hefty chunk of their T-shirts to Japanese customers who seem to understand what it is they’re getting. We understand too! And we want to buy and sell zillions of these shirts and keep the Hornbergers in business!

Here’s Scott pointing out his relatives in an old shot of workers at the mill.
Thanks so much, Gary and Scott! I hope to come back and visit you guys again soon! And next time, I’m bringing Lisa, Nile, Holly, Tessa, Em, Rachel, Emmy, Abby, and all the other girls!

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Nearest Habitat System

OK, the year is still 1971. You are now a group of Florentine architects who began with a focus on radical architecture and urban research, and you have lately taken up an interest in clothes.

Cuuuute. Despite your day to day choice of sensible tweed suits and slouchey knits for your own body coverage, your idea for others is to make a simple clothing system based on slimfitting bodystockings over which decorated overalls could be worn.

You sketch it out, see that such a system would look nice in empty corridors on your own, in pairs. It would work with bald men with bushy beards, with haired men with bushy beards. It would probably work when you cast a shadow against a wall. Or when you visit skyscrapers, when you do yoga, when you play a stringed instrument.

You think to yourself, This idea works. Let’s test it out on some handsome neighbors. Sure enough:



Ka-blam! Sans understocking.

Ka-blam! Sans understocking.

Hot damn. This last picture is from 1972, boys and girls. Nineteen Seventy-Two. And so, the American Apparel problem was born, never to look so very fine again. Oh man, oh man.

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Boobs Pillowcase


We finally got our hands on a new batch of Boobs Pillowcases! They’re now available in the shop and online here so you can go ahead and cross off just about every family member on your holiday shopping list, starting with your 13 year old brother who will not believe his luck! We also got a few more Boob Tops in, in case you’ve been waiting to get a hold of one of those….

Many thanks again to Andrew, Drew, and Loren for so kindly, and with very little explanation or reserve, posing for these ridiculous photographs right at the last minute when we needed them.  >>  UU   )• )•   <<  uu

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Lady Power Knitters

Shit. Ok, just southeast of the beard, is that? Could it be?

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Yep, that’s definitely a lady power fist motif among the torch bearing devils, sly foxes, and arcade game fellas adorning these incredible Swedish ladies’ sweaters. I know it, you know, they’re willing to stand in the mud all day to defend it:

Yeah, life looks good on their farm.

Note the dachshund in all this. Also, they seem to enjoy nice tropical vacations, where the heat don’t stop them.

Then, after very careful consideration, the ladies decided to allow men among them. All they had to do was wear awesome knits and like it. They knew how good they had it.

To enjoy seeing another powerful, unafraid of the cold Swedish lady taking control, look to Lukas Moodysson’s film Tillsammans  (which in the US was called Together)This bit doesn’t have subtitles going, but former residents of Bolinas and even those unfamiliar with radical group living should be able to follow the well worn conflict happening here. UPDATE: It's on Netflix.

All these awesome images are from Hönsestrik – ett sätt att sticka fritt by Kirsten Hofstätter, published in 1975. Stockholm used book stores, watch out!

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Vestirsi è facile

1972, Italy, architects, all still concerned with simple clothing systems. And now, there’s a kit for that:

A kit! You shouldn’t have, Archizoom! But is this diagram nightmare really necessary to start making simple clothes at home?

Yes because it’s worth it:

Vestirsi è facile, or, Dressing Is Easy, was another tantalizing clothing system made by Archizoom Associati. I have no idea why the absurd aesthetic of the earlier Nearest Habitat System gave us American Apparels on every corner, but this system, which is to me infinitely more stylish and actually adaptable, seems to be available to us now only through limited supply chains such as Miyake Plantation, Kenzo Jap, Flax (kind of), and certain more discerning purveyors of world beat trimmer garb.

Please, allow me to present that for you again:

Assumed here as a basic element is a square piece of cloth. This first logical use of the raw material eliminates waste, enabling one to operate on a geometrically defined element with which one can plan, rejecting imitative operations of any anthropometrical importance.

Indeed, it is only by abandoning traditional sartorial methods still so ubiquitous in industrial production that we shall be able to cope with and correctly utilize productive technologies and methods, drawing planning criteria directly from the nature of the productive process.

In this case the first fundamental operation is to consider the fabric and the cloth to be like a continuous ribbon of unvarying width, and not an indefinite surface from which portions are haphazardly cut out.

And so forth, and so on, published in Casabella, December 1973, and Zaaaaang.

The best news is that there is also a film for this, also called “Vestirsi è facile”. A film! But I can’t seem to manage a way to view it….And I’m having trouble finding sufficient information. This deal is so rad. I came across mention of it in a book, Italian New Wave Design, by Andrea Branzi, 1984, one I recommend. So this is a shout out–if anyone has some more information, please share it!

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog

Dressing Is E-Z

The year is 1971. You’re an American hippie with heavy concern about your clashing bathing cozzie. The good news is a perfectly reliable guide to making clothes out of simple shapes has just come out in paperback:

Don’t they look stoked in their homesewn! Tell me more–I’ve always wanted to know how to construct a sarong.

Mahalo Aimee for passing your copy on to me.

This post originally appeared on the Gravel & Gold blog