New York

“Objects of Their Affection”

Interart Center

“Fashion may be glamorous,” its detractors will admit before delivering what they consider to be the coup de grâce, “but it’s vacuous.” The frumpy and the dumpy might criticize fashion but it’s not just a passive process of consuming the latest and greatest. As its etymology would indicate, fashion is a question of actively producing something; like art, it’s about fabricating appearances.

“In conceiving this show of objects from the collections of eight American designers, I wanted to go beyond the fact of collecting to see if there was a connection between what these eight designers collect and what they create,” explains the organizer of the show, Joanne Mattera, in the press material that accompanied “Objects of Their Affection.” Generally speaking, the dots between designers’ clothes and collections do connect: Betsey Johnson’s “collection” filled a corner of the exhibition space with hat boxes, silver sandals, silk flowers, votive candles, an old corset, a Madonna autograph, cute snapshots of her daughter Lulu, studded belts, ballet slippers, and all sorts of other baubles. That this manic collection reflected the brash mayhem of her clothing designs is not surprising, since it was an avowedly inspirational “collage wall” that normally resides in her studio. Michael Kors’ collection consisted of fashion photographs by the likes of Herb Ritts, Irving Penn, and Steven Meisel. Comparing them to the elegant and intellectual minimalism of his clothing designs, Kors says, “With one exception, my photographs are black and white. I like that the photographer can get dimension and texture without color, that he can make it interesting without ornamentation. It’s sort of the way I design clothes.”

Geoffrey Beene displayed a witty selection from his purportedly enormous archive of men’s ties, Todd Oldham and Tony Longoria showed gems from their collection of thrift-store paintings, and Christian Francis Roth shared his Charles Addams first editions. Still, showing “collections of fashion designers” could seem a relatively simplistic idea (why not those of aerobics instructors or garbage men?) except that designers are, to some degree, celebrities. How many ceramics aficionados came to see Joan Vass’ collection of majolica? If no collection is as much a drawing attraction as the name of a designer, then Cynthia Rowley’s contribution to the exhibition said the most: her collection consisted of a TV blaring reruns of I Love Lucy, a bowl of popcorn spilled on the floor, a plate full of half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches, a “Home Sweet Home” sign, and a little table with a cheerful tablecloth. It was less a “collection” in the sense that Isabella Gardner or John Paul Getty (or anyone else who’s left their name to an art museum) would understand it, than a recreation of the designer’s living room, much as haute couture is less an ensemble of pretty clothes than awesome labels.

Keith Seward