The Dowsing: Dickeys and Fabergé
In the upcoming fashion performance The Dowsing this Friday, March 22, at University of Washington's Red Square, designer Anna Telcs will gradually layer male models in her garments that "are more like sculptures," designed to build the silhouette's volume. "It'll feel ritualized as the bodies are walking. I'll be anointing them with clothing," she says. (The affiliated display runs at the Henry Art Gallery through May 5.)
Watch for voluminous sleeve caps fastened on with buttons, pleated neckwear "like an ecclesiastical dickey," quilted thigh pads, a chest plate of swollen knots made from batting-stuffed tubes, cocoon-shaped outerwear resembling "a Fabergé egg that you can peer into and see all the smocking inside," and another form that "started as a jacket-y situation but then became a ball."
The apparel of The Dowsing manages to seem both pure and timeworn. The shapes are basic and flowing and embellished with details like darning-stitched knees to suggest use and repairs, and a palette of deliberately washed-out colors: "It's what happens when you wear a garment again and again and again. Black becomes bleach black or rust black or blood black." To make an actual rust-tone trim, Anna soaked bias tape in a salve made of water, vinegar, and steel wool. And she transformed silk from beige to an ash brown by singeing the fabric: "It sort of melts. It doesn't really catch fire. Well, it does every once in a while."
Anna's work in The Dowsing comments on the industrialization of the apparel industry, which has resulted in our current cycle of trends and cheapness and throwaways. Other influences stem from fashion history's assortment of strange and gorgeous oddities—city grant funding enabled Anna to meticulously wade through the squillions of antique garments in the Henry's Reed Collection Study Center. She was compelled by 1920s-era silk panties, and their pairing of simple wide legs with delicate geometric embroidery. Worth noting: their split-crotch design imparts a delightfully tawdry effect, but at the time this construction was totally customary.
Anna also studied 19th-century bustle gowns, with their ballooning piles and freakishly complicated underlayers, and hidden structures involving pulley-equipped corsets, flexible metal tapes, collapsible cages, hinges, tiered ruffles, or hoops embedded in seams. Though The Dowsing's costumes integrate swollen proportions, for aesthetic reasons Anna avoided using mechanical components. By contrast, the original looks so encased their wearers that in the era of flame lamps, "underpinnings would catch fire, and women burned to death in their own dress because they couldn't get out of it in time," she says.
Send fashion information to firstname.lastname@example.org