October 18, 2013
Last night, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, celebrated innovators of design both large and small with an awards gala, held in New York City. The gala kicks off National Design Week, an educational initiative that recognizes achievement and innovation in American design and honors the impact of design in everyday life. The honorees—winners of the National Design Awards and the People’s Design Award—were presented with a trophy as unique as the celebration itself, handcrafted by the Corning Museum of Glass.
The honorees represent multiple aspects of the industry from architecture to commercial media ventures:
- The lifetime achievement award was presented to James Wine, founder and president of SITE, a New York-based architecture firm founded in the 1970s.
- Michael Sorkin, architect and urbanist, was awarded the Design Mind award. The award for architecture design was presented to Studio Gang Architects, a collective of architects based in Chicago.
- Graphic designer Paula Scher was awarded the National Design Award for Communication Design. Behnaz Sarafpour took home the award for fashion design.
- And Local Projects, a media design firm specializing in museums and public spaces, won the award for interaction design.
- In the realm of interior design, Aidlin Darling Design, a firm based out of San Francisco, was honored, while Margie Ruddick took home the award for landscape architecture.
- NewDealDesign was honored for product design, while the non-profit organization TED (of TED Talks fame) won the Corporate & Institutional Achievement award.
Winners of the National Design award were chosen through a submission process which began this fall, and included suggestions from leading designers, educators, journalists and design enthusiasts. The winners were selected from this pool via a jury, which chose the top nominees over a two-day period.
Here on Smithsonian.com, we invited the public to vote for a design of their choice—chosen from 20 nominees—to receive the People’s Design Award. Past winners of the People’s Design Award have included Marianne Cusato, designer of the Katrina Cottage, Toms Shoes, the Zōn Hearing Aid, the Trek Lime Bicycle, the Braille Alphabet Bracelet and Design Matters, a show about design and culture.
This year, the People’s Design Award was given to the PackH2O Water Backpack, a backpack that allows water to be easily transported from a source to wherever it may be needed. The backpack, easier to carry than jerry cans or buckets is often used in places with little access to clean water, and includes a removable liner that can be sanitized with sunlight.
“Cooper-Hewitt has long been a champion of socially responsible design, most notably for our ‘Design with the Other 90%’ exhibition series,” said Caroline Baumann, director of the museum. “I am truly delighted that the American public has chosen to recognize this design solution for the developing world. Millions of people around the world lack access to a reliable source of clean water, and the PackH2O demonstrates the power of design to address this critical problem.”
September 4, 2013
There’s a lot to love about AMC’s “Mad Men,” not least of which is the fashion. Since 2007, the critically acclaimed television series has dazzled viewers with its attention to period detail, bringing the 1960s back to life with an extensive wardrobe of nipped-waist dresses and longline bras, fedoras and skinny ties. The show has become a modern style guide, launching fashion trends and even a popular tie-in clothing line from Banana Republic. “Mad Men”‘s fashion takes us, as Don Draper would put it, “to a place where we ache to go again.”
The person behind this style revival is Janie Bryant, the show’s costume designer. Bryant researches, designs and curates all the looks on “Mad Men,” from Joan Harris’ curve-hugging sheaths to Bob Benson’s beach-ready shorts. Bryant has won numerous accolades (including six Emmy nominations and one win) for her period work on “Mad Men” and the 2004-2006 HBO series “Deadwood,” and frequently collaborates with brands and retailers to create contemporary fashions. She will be interviewed by historian Amy Henderson at a Smithsonian Associates seminar next week.
We caught up with the designer to talk about her work on “Mad Men,” her personal style, her upcoming reality show and, of course, the shorts that launched a thousand rumors and a parody Twitter account:
How much of the fashion on “Mad Men” is vintage, and how much is your original design?
It’s always a combination. I design garments for the principal cast, and that always depends on the episode and the characters that are in the script and how much time and money I have. I buy vintage and I do a lot of rentals from the amazing costume houses here in Los Angeles. I will also buy vintage and redesign it, depending on what needs I have for each particular character.
How do you get inspired?
It really starts with the script. It’s inspirational to read what the characters are saying to each other, what actions they’re taking, where each scene is being set, so the script is really the beginning place for the costume design. From there, I start my research process by going through catalogs, old photographs, all different kinds of magazines—anything from a Sears catalog to a Vogue fashion magazine from the period and everything in between. That’s why I particularly love old photographs, because you truly get a sense of what people were wearing and how they wore it and where each wrinkle was. I will research newspapers. I’ll watch old movies. I do a lot of research because it’s always that visual inspiration of, “Oh! This reminds me so much of the character Betty,” or “This photograph reminds me so much of Don.”
Walk me through your design process for Joan’s purple suit (sketch below) from the first episode of “Mad Men” season six.
Season five was such an interesting character arc for Joan because she had a new position [as a partner] in the office and came into a new position economically. I felt like that was a great opportunity for Joan to have a little bit of an update. She’s been stuck in that late-fifties wiggle dress, hourglass look for many, many seasons. Joan will always wear clothing that totally accentuates her curves, but at the same time I felt like she could use a little fashion update. I wanted to incorporate a more A-line skirt. The vest and skirt combination was a very modern thing at this point in time, and the ruffled blouses were really coming into style as well, so I wanted to incorporate those elements for Joan, especially in the first episode of the season.
But Christina [Hendricks, who plays Joan] and I still laugh—we’re like, “Oh, Joan, she buys clothes and then she takes it to her seamstress and has it tailored two sizes too small!” It’s a funny little character thing that I love about Joan. Joan wears her clothes too tight—it’s fabulous.
Do you have a favorite character to design for? A favorite garment that you’ve created?
[With regard to] favorite characters, it changes so much because it really depends on what’s happening in the script. The fun thing about being the costume designer of the show is that there is such variety. Probably one of my favorite costumes of all time is Harry’s costume from last season, when the guys go to California. He’s in his long dramatic scarf, the yellow double-breasted sports coat. I love that costume so much! I love the whole aspect of the show moving along in time, and that was just one of those moments that you can really see things changing. . . . If [the show] stayed at 1960 for six years, I think that I would grow tired of that.
I also loved the blue brocade gown that I designed for Betty in season two, with the blue silk organza overdress and the inset pearls and rhinestones. I love that dress. There’s so many! I hate choosing favorites—it’s so hard. I can’t even decide because it has varied so much. Megan was one of my favorite characters last year and Jane was one of my favorite characters in season five. One of my favorite costumes of all time was Jane’s ivory silk crepe jumpsuit with the rhinestone cutout.
You mean the Princess Leia look, from when she and Roger took LSD?
That’s the one, but it’s funny that you call it Princess Leia! [laughs] She was over-the-top, dramatic Princess Leia then.
How much input does the showrunner, Matthew Weiner, have on the costume design?
I talk with him about what I’m thinking and sometimes he will have specific desires for a character, but I never feel like he’s micromanaging me. We’ve always had a great, creative working relationship. I run my department and I have my creative discussions with him, and that’s how we work together. I have always felt like it’s very balanced and there’s a lot of independence.
How much interaction do you have with hair and make-up to create a character’s complete look?
We have lots and lots of discussions. I show them what the costume is going to be for each character and hopefully we have time to talk about it. They are very creative too. They see the costume, the color, the design of it, what I’m going for, and then they can do their thing.
It’s usually the women’s fashion that gets the most attention. What are some of the subtleties of men’s fashion that we should note?
I pay huge attention to the men. They all have different shirt collars and different cuff links, or may not have cuff links—like Roger Sterling, each one of his shirts is embroidered with his initials on the cuff. They each have a different color scheme. Each of the male characters wears a different kind of suiting. The variation really is endless, and I do love to make each one of those characters different. I think it’s really important for them to be very character-specific and character-driven.
The obvious way of seeing that is Harry. He’s so different from the rest of the male cast. But Pete is too, and his costume design has changed a lot over all the different seasons, which has been really fun—from his menswear being mostly made up of different hues of blues to his palette being much more refined and somber and serious as he has gotten older. That has been very interesting—the transition for that character, to go through all the different character arcs with him.
I want to ask you about one men’s look in particular: Bob Benson’s shorts from this past season. How did you settle on those shorts?
There were several details about those swim trunks that I loved. One, it was a fish print, which I thought was really important because he’s a character that everybody was sort of like, “Hmm, we don’t really know who this guy is.” I felt like the fish print gave that sort of slippery accent to his character. Also, his color palette was always just a little off. The shorts have an interesting color scheme going on—the fish are a little odd in color. [The shorts] just really spoke to me as far as “OK, that’s a Bob Benson swim trunk.” And it was also kind of nerdy too. I loved all those things about them.
Was it a challenge for you to dress Betty as the character gained and lost weight? How did you deal with that?
Yes, that is always challenging. It’s also an aspect of the show that I wanted to look perfectly flawless and natural to the audience. For season five, I designed 90 percent of her costumes and had them made, just because it was like designing for a totally different, new character. This [past] season, her weight loss was very challenging too—to go through all those different periods. We had a lot of fittings to figure out the proper amount of weight loss [and] how the costumes were going to fit with the weight loss. And not to mention, her hair color changed too. All of those factors went into the different costumes. I love that part of the show as well—the challenges that come up within the show.
How has Sally Draper’s style evolved as she has become a teenager?
I loved researching teen fashions for this period. It’s been really fun to go through the character changes with Sally. I always felt like when she was in the Francis home, it was very preppy, very east coast, almost like Sally dresses like Betty. But since she’s had the influence of Megan, she’s more fashionable, she’s into the go-go boots, the miniskirts, the hippie chic. All of those aspects have been really fun to play with with her character. I think it’s been fun for the audience too.
I got an email from a fan of the show who sent me a picture of herself in 1967 wearing the same exact dress that Sally Draper wore to the Thanksgiving dinner. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it. I do a lot of research and so does my team—it is pretty extensive. But to have that visual confirmation of being so spot-on, that was a beautiful moment.
Does the fashion on “Mad Men” reflect your own personal style?
No, it doesn’t. I am all about sexy, modern glamour. I love pretty with an edge.
You’re now known as a vintage designer. Would you like to branch out into more contemporary fashions?
I am obsessed with period costume design. I love it. I guess I am known for vintage, but I really see it more as period costume design, as opposed to vintage. As far as my own brand, there are definitely aspects of vintage in my design. I am inspired by vintage, for sure.
Do you raid the closet at “Mad Men”?
I have a couple of times, but not always. If I wear vintage, I like to wear one dramatic piece and not be in a costume. I’m obsessed with brocades, I’m obsessed with laces. A lot of those fabrics were very popular during the sixties. There are a lot of things that I truly love about the period, especially in the winter time. There’s nothing like going to New York City in a full-length leather cape with a fur trim.
When do you start working on the next (and final) season of “Mad Men”?
I haven’t gotten anything official yet, but I think I’ll go back probably sometime in the fall.
“Mad Men” is ending soon. Do you have a dream project that you would love to work on?
I am working on my own TV show, and that is my dream right now. It’s a reality design competition that merges costume design with fashion design. I love this whole idea because fashion designers are truly inspired by costume designers. I wanted to bring costume designers more to the forefront, but [the show is] also about how the garments that we see in film and TV really do show up on the runway. It’s a competition show that really merges those two worlds together, and I think as time has gone on, the two career paths have become more and more closely linked to one another.
We are in the process of getting it sold, which is really exciting. I’m working with the amazing producers from “Fashion Star,” and that’s where we are right now. We are working with the title of “Janie Bryant’s Hollywood.”
How have you been influenced by other costume designers?
I’ve always been obsessed with Gone with the Wind, My Fair Lady, Gigi, Sound of Music, An American in Paris, Jezebel. I really got into watching classic movies because I loved the costume design so much. But other designers like Sandy Powell, Catherine Martin, Colleen Atwood [are] amazing and I love their work.
I loved Sandy Powell’s work on Far From Heaven.
I’m obsessed with Orlando. I could see that film a million, trillion times. Her work on that is just breathtaking!
Janie Bryant will speak at the Smithsonian Associates seminar, “Mad Men Style: Janie Bryant on Fashion and Character,” on September 9, 2013. Tickets are available at smithsonianassociates.org.
June 7, 2013
From her salon in Silver Spring, Maryland, Camille Reed spreads the message of natural hair to her clients. And it seems to be catching on. The products once advertised to black women in the pages of Ebony and elsewhere are on the decline. Between 2009 and 2011, sales of chemical straighteners dipped 12.4 percent, according to Danielle Douglas reporting for the Washington Post with data from market research firm Mintel. In 2011, the number of black women who said they no longer relaxed their hair hit 36 percent, a 10 percent bump from 2010.
Reed, a participant in a discussion about health and identity at the African Art Museum tonight, says she’s seen the changes too. She opened Noire Salon 13 years ago because she wanted, “young women to understand that they can be beautiful without the wigs, without the weaves, without the extensions.” Her second-floor shop sits right outside D.C., a hot bed of hair whose salons reported the highest sales per business in the country in 2007, according to census data. Offering a range of services from coloring to cutting to dreadlock maintenance and styling, Reed says she tries to use as few chemicals as possible and instead work with a person’s natural hair to create a healthy, stylish look. ”Girls are not buying the chemicals as much,” she says, “They’re still buying the weaves here and there because people like options but they’re not buying the harsh chemicals.”
The history of African-American hair care is a complicated one. Early distinctions existed during slavery when, “field slaves often hid their hair, whereas house slaves had to wear wigs similar to their slave owners, who also adorned wigs during this period,” according to feminist studies scholar Cheryl Thompson.
The history also includes the country’s first female, self-made millionaire, Madam C. J. Walker, a black woman who made her fortune selling hair care products to other black women in the early 1900s. Begun as a way to help women suffering from baldness regrow hair, her company later promoted hot comb straightening–which can burn the skin and hair and even cause hair loss–creating a tangled legacy for the brand and speaking to the fraught territory of marketing beauty.
Eventually the business of straightening won out. In the August 1967 issue of Ebony alongside a profile of a 25-year-old Jesse L. Jackson, a look at the birth of Black Power and an article on gangs in Chicago, there is a mix of advertisements promising better skin and hair. “Lighter, Brighter Skin Is Irresistible,” reads one for bleaching cream. Another single-page spread offers a 100 percent human hair wig for $19.99 from Frederick’s of Hollywood. Chemical relaxers were sold alongside titles like James Baldwin’s “The First Next Time.” As clear as it was that messages of inherent inequality were false, there pervaded an image of beauty, supported by an industry dependent on its propagation, that placed fair skin and straight hair on a pedestal.
When activists like Angela Davis popularized the Afro, natural hair gained visibility but also a reputation for being confrontational. As recently as 2007, black women were told by fashion editors that the office was no place for “political” hairstyles like Afros, according to Thompson.
Reed says the pressure is internal as well, “It’s really more of our older generations, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers who were saying, don’t you do anything to rock the boat, you look like everybody else so that you can maintain your life.”
Reed’s own personal hair history is a deeply inter-generational story. Her grandmother was a hair stylist at a salon in Cleveland, Ohio, where her mission, says Reed, was to transform women and give them confidence. “My grandmother was about the hair looking good, looking right,” says Reed. In the context of racism, if hair was a woman’s crowning glory, it was also a shield.
Meanwhile, she says her mother taught her about cornrowing and her aunt, who was one of the first to introduce the track weave, showed her how weaves could be used to supplement damaged hair and not necessarily to disguise a woman’s natural hair.
In high school, Reed says, “I was the girl who had her hair done every two weeks like clockwork because that’s how I was raised, to keep your hair done.” Then, three weeks before her senior prom she says, “I realized, this relaxer life is not for me. All of this stuff I have to do with my hair, this is not who I am, this does not represent me…I cut off all of my relaxed hair, left me with about an inch, inch and a half of hair.”
In college she decided she wanted even less maintenance and began to lock her hair. To her surprise, her grandmother actually liked the change. “And we were all just floored because this is the woman we knew who didn’t like anything to do with natural hair.”
Now Reed has children of her own, a son and daughter, whom she is teaching about beauty and hair care. “I purposefully let my son’s hair grow out about an inch to two inches before I cut it because I want him to feel comfortable with it low and shaven and faded–and I do all that–as well as feel comfortable with it longer, a little bit curlier so he knows, whichever you way you look, mommy and daddy still love you.”
For her clients, the message isn’t too different.
Camille Reed will be participating in a panel discussion “Health, Hair and Heritage,” hosted by the African Art Museum and the Sanaa Circle the evening of Friday, June 7 in the Ripley Center.
March 5, 2013
Cindy Chao knew, with more than 2,300 gems of diamonds, rubies and tsavorite garnets, her butterfly brooch was masterpiece of craftsmanship. Made in 2009, the brooch found its way to the cover of Women’s Wear Daily–the first piece of jewelry ever to do so in 100 years. Known for her wearable works of art, Chao had made a name for herself as the first Taiwanese jeweler included at a Christie’s auction in 2007, and her work even debuted on the Hollywood red carpet.
Now her butterfly brooch comes to the Natural History Museum’s Gems and Minerals collection as the first piece designed by a Taiwanese artist. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and brilliant enough to illuminate a room. The brooch packs a punch. But it also packs a surprise.
Curator Jeffrey Post says he was compelled by his ongoing interest in the optical behaviors of diamonds to put the piece under ultraviolet light, and the ensuing light show was nothing short of spectacular. The diamonds and sapphires fluoresced, glowing neon in the dark. “When we saw all these fluorescing diamonds, all these different colors, it was just the whipped cream on top of the cake,” says Post, “It was just the most wonderful surprise.”
Chao, meanwhile, had never seen this phenomenon. “When Dr. Post showed it to me under the ultraviolet light, I was shocked because he thought I did it on purpose.” An artist influenced by her father’s career as both an architect and sculptor, Chao cares about the craft of jewelry-making and working with unique materials. She calls the fluorescent reaction a natural miracle. Now, she says, “I check everything under the ultraviolet light.”
A symbol of metamorphosis, the butterfly speaks to Chao’s own transformation from jeweler to artist. While she’s had great success in the market (her pieces command any where from $15,000 for a ring and nearly $1 million for a brooch), she says earning a spot in the Smithsonian was a great honor as an artist. She hopes to pass on her lessons to students who share her passion for the craft of jewelry-making.
The brooch also speaks to the natural metamorphosis each gemstone undergoes. “Every gemstone,” says Post, “including this butterfly, starts out as a mineral crystal that forms, and only the best and most perfect of those mineral crystals are transformed into gemstones.” Post says that the incredibly detailed design of the brooch, which mimics the microstructure and scale of a living butterfly’s wings, speaks to the piece’s rarified quality. “The other side of the butterfly is just as beautiful as the front and that’s how you know, this is really a masterpiece creation,” he says.
Joining the recent Dom Pedro donation, as well as the famed Hope Diamond, the piece will brooch in the Hall of Gems and Minerals. Its donation also marks the fifth anniversary of the museum’s Butterfly Pavilion.