The fashion industry aligns with perfection, a prescription, rules, which place limitations on design. At MoMA PS1’s fourth Greater New York exhibition, fashion designer and artist Susan Cianciolo subverts these expectations.
In a quiet and somberly lit room, a line of mix-matched mannequins stand atop of wooden panels, exhibiting pieces of Susan Cianciolo’s brand RUN. Hand-rendered with Crayola markers: eyes, lips, and shoes accessorize the haptic designs. On the middle platform Reconstructed vintage Carolina Herrera with patchwork applique featuring hand silkscreened fabric (1990) features woven ribbon collages, patches developed from tablecloths, and smeared thick paint strokes of gold and pink embellish the manipulated nude and gold flecked dress. The work is handcrafted and purposefully unfinished, undermining the fashion industry favor for perfectionism in design. Susan Cianciolo’s visceral approach made her a leader in the 1990s deconstruction movement, against the mainstream focus on trends and the new.
Looping on repeat: collaged clips of Cianciolo’s films and runway shows are projected on the opposite wall. A mundane old TV set sits alongside streaming clips of models walking down the runway. Unlike what fashion films are thought to be: a high quality advertisement, pursing lips in high heels—status, Cianciolo’s films are not focused on the clothing at all, but on a narrative, where characters just happen to be wearing her pieces or “costumes.” The lo-fi image quality separate Cianciolo from the futuristic HD expectations of the fashion industry; nostalgia over idealization.
The third wall contains books that Cianciolo used to document her thoughts, research, and plans for developing collections. The books are not blank sketchbooks but found mediums, already containing text and images Cianciolo builds, tapes, scans, and draws over. Just like her clothing, Cianciolo builds into, overlaps and collages into that which already exists.
Today, Cianciolo’s design philosophy inspires the contemporary market, resurfacing in brands like Eckhaus Latta, and through her role as a professor at Pratt Institute: encouraging students not be afraid to be themselves.