Thursday, August 03, 2006

Longhouse Couture

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at the Longhouse, the home of textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen. As a fibers student, I have been studying Larsen’s work since I began undergraduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and continued to look at his impact more seriously once in graduate school. Anyone who has been paying attention to interior decoration, textile design or the craft world over the past 50 years knows that Jack Larsen is one of its foremost innovators and trend setters…a real rock star of the field.

The thing I like most about Jack is that his fame and celebrity is one that doesn’t require lavish retreats, nightly extravagant dinners and pool boys, but instead he opts for a much more solid and lasting existance with his own art collection and the work others in the art world are doing, and a well tested philosophy of giving back. My time in the Hamptons has shown me that for some, a level-headedness and worldly sense of reality can be quickly set aside in exchange for some other brand of “luxury” that otherwise leaves me completely cold. This is not the case at Longhouse.

My dinner with Jack was fantastic. A ride through his world-famous gardens on a golf cart and a drink in his immaculately decorated (yes DECORATED) home was follwed by dinner and conversation about the mutual friends we have, the new life I’m beginning for myself in New York, and how on earth anyone manages to become successful in the arts.

After a very kind and considered look at my portfolio, Jack’s suggestion was to “either switch to designing for women, or switch to theatre.” I’ve heard this before. The bodies of work I tote around and share with people are loaded with unusual garments for men, photographed on men, and designed with only men in mind. I’m not so sure I could find a means of immediately making a living doing work for such a focused market. Theatre, could possibly let me continue with this approach. And women’s fashion, of course, always leaves room for more color, more texture, more exploration.

I’m a bit scared of the fashion world. It seems ruthless. Cruel, even. I don’t know if I have it in me to face the steady stream of superficiality and trend-chasers on a daily basis. Sadly, the days of couture are long gone. Fifty years ago, a woman of high society would acquire a handful of custom garments…maybe 5 or 6 a year…knowing that each was entirely unique, and wear them time and time again with no repercussions. Women of today demand hundreds, and the social sin of wearing the same thing twice is becoming more objectionable every day.

I want the days of 5 or 6 new garments a year to come back. I want to know that there is a place for, and a demand for, a level of refinement and authenticity in a single garment; a value placed upon precision and craft in the making of ONE garment...not one million. Giving designers a means of laboring over a single design is essential. The ready to wear market has managed to showcase repetition and mediocrity in design that frankly, is remarkably boring.

Not boring, however, was Jack's evening attire...which changed three times in the 4 hours I was there. Every time he left the room, he returned in a slightly different, equally comfortable but chic variations on Japanese summer designs in unbleached linen. Clearly this was a result of me dining there on the absolute hottest day in the Hamptons since the 1950s. We broke records yesterday. And while the temperatures were torturous, the resulting attire modifications were a joy to watch.


Anonymous Anna said...

Any caftans?

10:47 AM  
Blogger mc said...

Sadly there were no caftans. There was, however, a knee-length square cut brown linen robe

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Mr. C said...

I caught a bit of a documentary on PBS about Longhouse last weekend. The expert on gardens of this sort referred to it as "his favorite garden in America."

8:12 PM  
Blogger Erk said...

What a super evening and a super story!

Personally, I long for the days when one could focus on a handful of pool-boy bathing suits a year...

7:48 AM  
Anonymous cory said...

Mikey, don't you give up on dressing men. Girls have plenty of choices in fashion, christ every season they get inundated with countless more, and what has changed in mens fashion in...well...ever? Nothing. I for one (a proud owner of th MC line)would be disappointed if you went to womenswear. The fact is mens fashion will never change if we don't force it along. And innovation of any kind in menswear is truly innovative, do you know how much harder it'd be to make something new for women? Not that you're afraid of a challenge. I'm just make your own decision, but I would like to put in my vote for menswear. All in favor. AYE.

2:37 PM  
Blogger mc said...


3:59 PM  
Anonymous Poolboi said...


1:19 PM  
Anonymous Mr. C said...


2:33 PM  

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