With Clients from Cher to Farrah and Diana (Ross, that is) Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced Is A Liberated Look Back At the Slinky, Sexy Styles of the Disco Era.
Exhibition at The Museum of The City of New York through July 28
By Lori Simmons Zelenko
Question: What do Cher, Farrah Fawcett, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand all have in common? Answer: A love for the flirty lettuce-edged styles of brilliant and buoyant fashion designer Stephen Burrows. He dressed these fashion icons and many more celebs and fashionistas at a time when everyone liked the nightlife, when this funky town was a disco inferno and Donna Summer breathlessly chanted, “love, love to love you baby.
Stephen entered New York’s volatile fashion scene in the late 1960s and with his arrival a new, liberated version of American fashion was ushered in. The first African-American designer to attain international stature, he helped define the look of the disco scene. Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced open through July 28 at the Museum of the City of New York is the first exhibition to focus on this artiste as an American design force. It features original sketches, photographs, video and more than 50 fabulous fashion statements.
My favorites? Richly hued layers of chiffon, barely there confections in show stopping fuchsia, lilac and fire engine red. Gowns are too formal a word for these inventive creations that swirled around the slim frames of chic, partying celebs dancing till dawn at Studio 54. The exhibition focuses on the years between 1968 and 1983 —when his designs were hotter than hot and the glamour of New York’s nightlife was at an all-time high.
Known for his signature “lettuce” edge, red zigzag stitching, the wild movement of fringe and the glitter of metallic fabrics, clever color blocking and slinky, body-defining silhouettes, Stephen created danceable designs, playful, eye-catching representations of the joyous mood of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a feeling of liberation that evolved into the craziness that became the disco scene. His fresh, unconstructed vision was an important step for American fashion, helping to transform the perception of USA style as independent expression, rather than a retread of Paris couture.
A trendsetter whose free form fashion was like no other, Stephen’s career was distinguished by a succession of “firsts” –the first American designer given a free standing boutique called Stephen Burrows’ World at the trendy retailer Henri Bendel; one of the five American designers (with Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta) invited to show in Paris in 1973 at the legendary “Battle of Versailles,” which for the first time pitted American designers against the French. He was also included among the “Best Six” International Designers in Tokyo in 1977 and in 1973 became, the first African-American recipient of the prestigious Coty Award (his was the first of three).
Burrows’ distinctive style has never diverged from his personal design philosophy: that “clothes be colorful, alive, fresh, sexy, feminine and, most of all, fun to wear. They must move as the body moves, be danceable, comfortable and have a great fit, and they should give the feeling of an engineered sensuality.” Color, freedom and danceability never left Stephen’s work, as it evolved with the changes experienced by the city itself, from the youthful exuberance and hippie chic of the ‘60s through the glamorous, boldly sensual looks of the ‘80s. The exhibition encourages us all to get down and “boogie oogie oogie” as we look back at an icon who created fashion that flowed, in a city that never slept.
Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced is the first major exhibition of the designer that The New York Times called in 1977 the “brightest star of American fashion.” Taking its cue from the over the top fabulousness of the disco era, the exhibition of slinky, sexy fashion statements presents looks favored by ‘70s style icons including Cher, Liza Minnelli and Diana Ross.
On view through July 28 at The Museum of the City of New York · 1220 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10029 · 212.534.1672. Sponsored by Target.