Initiatives in Art and Culture’s (IAC) 21st anniversary fashion conference, devoted to the color blue, proved to be a pièce de résistance. Earth seen from afar is the ”blue planet”, and the hue, the color of sea and sky naturally inspires discussions of sustainability and materials. Revered in adornment, some of the world’s most recognizable gems and jewelry are blue. A primary tool for branding, the color is a company uniform go-to, while blue pigments have been used to paint the recognizable Virgin Mary’s robes throughout the history of art. The “blues” are synonymous with the jazz era in music, and denim jeans are worn by half of all people on the planet, at any given point in time. Blue is part of our cultural DNA, and Blue, IAC’s 21st Annual Fashion, Design + Jewelry conference explored its ever-evolving renaissance.
Lisa Koenigsberg, President of IAC, says, “For the 21st annual Fashion, Jewels + Design Conference, IAC focused on blue, believing that this particular hue — the color of sea and sky—is one of the most elemental, and therefore powerful, purveyors of color. We were honored to welcome and discuss the work of great designers, jewelers, journalists, design pioneers and other authorities to consider, ‘blue,’ which — as a color is a signifier so direct no text is required. We are deeply appreciative of the engagement and support of our project partner, the School of Fashion at Parsons School of Design. Additionally, we express our warmest thanks to Louis Vuitton for an informative and elegant evening, and to 3 x 1 and Vogue Italia Salon Art + Design for providing enriching experiences to attendees. This year, as has been the case for two decades, the conference fused a focus on materials, craft, and authentic experience with a concern for ethical practice and responsible sourcing, using a cross disciplinary approach.”
The conference began on the evening of Thursday, November 14th, at the New School, Parsons. In partnership with IAC, the elegant space hosted a blues ensemble, playing jazz and setting the ambiance for an alluring weekend of activities. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of “Worn on This Day,” provided a sneak peak of her book, which features 365 days of style and provenance, sharing the stories of outfits that made history. From a royal’s blue dress and sapphire engagement ring, to the uniforms worn when the A Bomb was dropped, Chrisman-Campbell explores how select outfits came to be, and what they came to mean. Following, Cameron Silver (Fashion Director, Halston) and Andrew Gelwicks (celebrity stylist), captivated with the blockbuster in conversation, “It’s Chic to Repeat.” Together, they discussed the proliferation of clothing on the earth (100 Billion garments for 7 billion humans), and the need to focus on re-wearing rather than constant acquisition. Instead of focusing on who wore it better, editorials, they suggest, should discuss who styled something better. Wearing a garment repeatedly is a celebration of ownership, and there was a lively discussion about the relationship between having a signature style and re-wearing.
On Friday, talks at The New School continued with Roland Ricketts (professor and associate dean, Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, Indiana University). A indigo farmer trained in Japan, he explored farming, dyeing and fading of the blue hue, from its historical to its present significance. After, Stan Herman (fashion designer) and Bridget Foley (executive editor, WWD), discussed Herman’s body of work; Herman is renowned internationally for designing corporate uniforms for companies such as Amtrak, JetBlue, TWA, Federal Express, United Airlines and more. His signature uniforms are designed for longevity, everyday wear, and comfort, usually featuring many pockets, and often incorporating the color blue. Following was Converse with Brandon Avery (VP, Global Innovation) and Jessica L’Abbe (Senior Director, Materials and Graphics). Considering innovation through two lanes—functional and emotional—the company discussed dedicating resources to partnerships and incubating ideas. After their talk came the Converse Renew program was introduced as an ongoing initiative seeking to develop new, innovative, and sustainable ways of creating product. For example, Converse experimented with creating denim sneakers with upcycled textiles, and is currently working on creating a line of Chuck Taylors from recycled plastic. Rounding out the morning, Dana Thomas (author, “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes”) discussed sustainable technologies being used to produce better fashion. She highlighted outstanding companies: with traceable supply chains, which are using ecological power, refusing to purchase from suppliers sourcing from the rainforest and otherwise imperiling environments; and which are using reclaimed materials. Thomas discussed strides being made in sustainable indigo farming, as well as a greener way to distress denim on a mass level. Next, Grant Mobley (U.S. Trade Lead, Diamond Producers Association) shared a video highlighting the transformation of a diamond which embraces both beauty and stories associated with the formation and transformation of the stones. Discussing the relationship between diamonds and emotions – most notably, love – the symbolism of the precious gems was shared, as were insights into the particular rarity of blue diamonds and their resultant privileged place.
After lunch, Kade Johnson and Sergio Guadarrama (fashion designers, Celestino) presented “Celestino Couture: Fluidity, Artisanry, + Sustainability.” Politically active, and socially aware, Celestino is passionate about making a statement—with dresses pushing boundaries, such as: the confines of traditional definitions of gender, being used as a means of providing access to theatre classes for marginalized kids, and as a vehicle for promoting issues, such as reproductive rights. In the fashion industry and the world, Celestino feels it is important to “Exist without oppressing another person, no matter where they come from.” Kade Johnson says, “Oftentimes, we look at [our garments] as a form of a warrior garment for a woman. She’s strong, she’s confident, she’s powerful, no matter what she’s wearing.” The next talk, “Blue Notes,” discussed how the blues, and the men and women who make it, influence other forms of artistic expression—from fine art to fashion. Arthur Elgort (fashion photographer) and Hank O’Neal (photographer, author, and jazz impresario) shared anecdotes from the jazz industry, celebrating style, photography, and the beauty behind the blues. After their talk came “Blue: Human Patrimony. Extracting and Transforming Precious Substances into Objects of Desire,” with Michael Peters (CEO, Trusted Gems & founder, Panjshir Valley Emeralds) and Elle Hill (CEO, Hill & Co. Fine Jewelry Launch and Growth Experts). Ending the first day’s programming with a tour de force, fashion designers Zandra Rhodes and Anna Sui spoke with Joan Agajanian Quinn (former West Coast Editor, Interview), about their experiences having museum shows, their mutual admiration of each other’s work, on inspiration, and about working primarily in textile design, as opposed to fashion design. Ann Sui designs locally and prints overseas, whereas Zandra got her start hand screening prints with her boyfriend, at their London studio, saying “the print created the shapes.” Regarding Blue, Joan Agajanian Quinn says, “I am very, very, very pleased to be a part of the November fashion conference. I have been coming to New York, not only for the fashion conference, but for Lisa’s jewelry conference as well. I am astonished twice a year at the scope of content, the cultural importance, and the high caliber of participants and lectures that are socially relevant. She is brilliant in the way she puts things together.” Friday evening concluded with an event at Louis Vuitton, with a toast by Lisa Koenigsberg to the memory and legacy of Patrick-Louis Vuitton, who recently passed. The atelier showed a video dedicated to design, highlighting how its signature trunk influences every design produced by the house, to this day.
On Saturday, November 16th, Initiatives in Art and Culture Blue conference attendees enjoyed back-to-back excursions. Visiting 3 x 1 Denim, the group was treated to a behind the scenes tour of the company’s full transparency operation. Offering ready to wear, custom, and bespoke options, 3 x1 makes all under one roof, with over 70 rolls of denim lining the wall, alongside a plethora of thread, pocket, and button options. In-house pattern-making and celebrity clientele make the house a “go to” for the perfect jean, and a homage to the tried and true signature of blue. Later in the afternoon, conference attendees met Alexandra Mor at the Protagonist, Vogue Italia’s annual jewelry exhibition, at the Salon of Art + Design at the Park Avenue Armory. Greeted with a tour through the exhibits, Alexandra introduced each artist and collection, highlighting the passion of each designer to promote responsible and natural gemstone sourcing, as well as sustainable business practices, alongside high design. Mor says, “IAC has been a committed platform, promoting the voice of the jewelry and fashion industry for many years. It was an honor to welcome the Blue Conference to Vogue Italia’s Protagonist exhibit at the Salon Art + Design, to provoke thought about sustainability and encourage the conversation of mindful practices in the jewelry industry and beyond. As we share and inspire others to do the same, we can make the world a better place for future generations.”
About Initiatives in Art and Culture
Initiatives in Art and Culture (IAC) educates diverse audiences in the fine, decorative, and visual arts. Our primary activities are conferences, publications, and exhibitions that take an interdisciplinary approach, considering issues related to fabrication, connoisseurship, cultural patrimony, cultural preservation, and the future of culture. Particular areas of emphasis include American painting, precious substances, the history of frames, the Arts and Crafts movement, the influence of Asian cultures on American fine and decorative art, and the history and future of fashion. IAC’s projects have been supported by a wide array of individual, corporate, and foundation funders.