Concrete and Couture

Situ Studio sets the stage for folk art-influenced fashion

By Anna Fixsen
January 23, 2014
Photography © John Muggenborg
Designers from left to right: ThreeASFOUR, Catherine Malandrino, Fabio Costa, Chadwick Bell, Gary Graham, and Bibu Mohapatra.

While its former home on 53rd Street faces the wrecking ball, New York’s American Folk Art Museum is—to borrow from Project Runway host Tim Gunn—making it work in a new, smaller space elsewhere in Manhattan. This week, the museum unveiled Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art, an exhibition of couture fashion creations framed by the work of fabrication-focused architecture firm Situ Studio.

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Guest curator Alexis Carreño selected just over 100 objects from the museum’s collection and invited New-York designers—including Catherine Malandrino, Creatures of the Wind, and Michael Bastian—to respond to one or more of them by making a one-of-a-kind costume. “We asked thirteen designers to consider the aesthetic qualities and historic importance of works of art in our collection, and create a visual dialogue,” said Museum director Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice. “They are responding in dramatic and surprising ways.”

For the exhibition design, Brooklyn-based Situ Studio decided to experiment with concrete canvas, a spool of concrete-impregnated cloth that hardens upon hydration. The firm placed the fabric into custom molds folded to evoke the draping of a dress form, and then saturated it with water. “It provided an opportunity to explore the properties of this unique material in both its fluid and solid states,” says Situ partner Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherney.

The result is a series of 20 white enclosures—some yoga-mat thin, others billowing cascades of concrete—that cradle the exhibition’s couture ensembles and the vernacular objects that inspired them.

Situ’s minimal design kept the often-fantastic clothing grounded. Michael Bastian’s menswear creation, influenced by a sheet metal weathervane, a wood statuette, and a tin sculpture, includes long johns and a balaclava woven from opossum thread. A stretched men’s suit by John Bartlett, based on a late 19th century wood statue, evokes both Joseph Beuys and a car dealership’s windsock. The collective threeASFOUR took cues from a Quaker quilt for a dress composed of layers of laser-cut leather.

Click through the slideshow to view Situ’s pedestals and the final fashion designs—concrete and couture cut from the same cloth.


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