Early Twentieth Century

In the early twentieth century, unconventional artistic dress had achieved a certain level of acceptance. Wearing of artistic dress had even become a badge of distinction, bestowing upon the wearer an aura of progressive ideals, intellectualism, and good taste. These attributes were particularly accorded to the wearers of Fortuny dresses. Mario Fortuny y Madraz, born into a distinguished family of Spanish painters living in Venice, created Renaissance and medieval-inspired printed velvet gowns, as well as a simple columnar pleated silk dress inspired by ancient Greek sculpture. The latter dress, called the Delphos, was patented in 1909 and was produced, with slight variations, through the 1940s. Fortuny dresses became synonymous with simplicity, elegance, and timeless beauty and were favored by members of artistic and intellectual circles.

As the century progressed, a number of avant-garde painters also turned to the medium of fashion for artistic expression, viewing garments as the perfect form of kinetic, visual tableaux. Simultaneist and Rayonnist artists Sonia Delaunay and Natalia Goncharova tried their hand at fashion design and worked for the Parisian couture houses of Heim and Myrbor, respectively. Even more extreme were the 1913 dress designs of Italian Futurist Gi-acomo Balla and the mass-produced work clothes created by Russian Constructivists Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko. Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and even Ferdinand Leger took turns designing garments in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Greenwich Village, New York, became the epicenter for avant-garde thinking and dressing during the 1910s and 1920s. Poets, writers, artists, socialists, feminists, and philosophers flocked to this shabby neighborhood to share their progressive ideas on life and art, that found expression in the clothes they wore. Greenwich Village became synonymous with bohemian and alternative fashion that included uncorseted, straight tunic dresses, loose jackets, and bobbed hair for women. Greenwich Village artists appear to be particularly associated with the revival of the batik technique that became a popular form of artistic dress decoration during the late 1910s and 1920s. This "anti-fashion" provides a link with the European artistic dress movements of the previous century and set the stage for avant garde experiments in dress later in the twentieth century.

In the 1930s, a renewed interest in handweaving led to a revival in that and other textile crafts in America, particularly after World War II, and is linked to the wearable art movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. This weaving revival was particularly accelerated by the arrival of a number of Bauhaus-trained European émigrés in America during the 1930s and 1940s, such as Anni Albers and Marianne Strengell, who joined the teaching staffs of the Black Mountain College in North Carolina and Cran-brook Academy in Michigan, respectively. A generation later, their students pushed the boundaries of textile arts even further through their radical, off-loom woven sculptures of the late 1950s. Exploring the power of weaving, plaiting, dyeing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet, these fiber artists imbued the ancient techniques with new, expressive possibilities. Their creations paved the way for the wearable art movement that emerged ten years later. Wearable art carried on the exploration into textile techniques of the larger, inclusive fiber art movement.

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