The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 26, 2003


Strike a pose: Fashion photos at Textile Museum

Sometimes it takes a new exhibit to draw people to Lowell, our closest city. Runway Madness, a photo exhibit on New York's fashion shows at the American Textile History Museum, is one reason to visit.

The museum's main collection of spinning wheels and looms seems about as far away from the glamour and bright lights of high fashion as the Amish country from LA. But with the huge success of its past exhibit of the late Princess Diana's clothing, the museum is trying to capitalize on the public's interest in fashion.

The photos focus on both the pageant and reality behind the semi-annual Fashion Week, held last week in Manhattan with Spring 2004 designer collections. Photographer Lucien Perkins of the Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize winner, took the photos over a decade between the late '80s and '90s, working independently of the paper. "Perkins saw the fashion industry as a culture unto itself. He wanted to document the society," says Ellen Spear, Advancement Director for the museum.

Finishing touches by stylists are applied seconds before model Carine Holties steps on the runway in 1987. (Photo courtesy of Lucian Perkins)

In the black-and-white photos, designers' winter and summer fashions are shown by models who often appear aloof from the everyday world, part of the acting models are expected to do on the runway. Perkins captures that detached look and also the moments when they can let their masks drop, as at the end of a show.

The shows run from early in the morning to late in the evening during fashion week. Champagne flows freely all day long as part of the up, celebratory atmosphere the designers want to project to the potential retail buyers, fashion editors and worldwide press in the crowd. A model has her make-up applied first, then hair styling, and finally the outfit goes on. Models can't sit down once they are dressed for the runway because they could wrinkle the garments.

The photo captions do a good job of describing what's happening in the photos for those never exposed to haute couture (most people). One caption explains the way models pose: "Which pose they do depends on the designer's preference and their own personal styles." Another describes the model walk. "Models learn to walk with their shoulders thrown back because it makes them look taller, more elegant and thinner." Often designers parade outfits that push the limits of fashion, aware that the sexiest and most outrageous looking outfits are the ones that are the most photographed for magazines.

Student fashion designs

A separate companion exhibit, Future Fashion, displays clothes created by Boston-area fashion design students for a juried show sponsored by the museum. It also has a few recent costumes from the museum's own collection. The brilliantly colored outfits are a perfect companion to the photos of the main exhibit, bringing fashion alive. The student designs are done in silk, velvet and leather and have extensive handwork that is the hallmark of couture clothing. Exhibits show how the cotton industry forecasts colors and trends for an upcoming season by watching what people, including teenagers, are wearing.

Children's area

A children's room near the exhibit houses the Textile Learning Center, a place where families with children can do some hands-on activities. There are looms set up for weaving and for this show there is a dress-up area with clothing, a mannequin and runway. Another area has individual boxes with instruction sheets for doing activities with buttons, wooden gears, bracelets, and looms. There are also hands-on projects for families on Sundays at 2 p.m. with a teacher.

The museum has programs for schools called "Threads of Learning" and "Mad about Plaid" to teach students about the textile industry. It holds "Colonial Days" at the museum in November for school children in grades 3-5 to demonstrate colonial crafts, fiber arts, games and foods.

Main exhibit on textile history

Textiles in America, the museum's core exhibit on two floors, tells the history of American textiles. Many of the displays have interactive lighting and sounds that come on when you approach. The lighting is kept low to protect the antique woven bed coverings and fabrics on display, some made nearly 200 years ago.

The collection shows some everyday 19th-century clothing, a plain contrast to the modern fashion exhibit in the gallery below. One display shows the few items in one girl's entire wardrobe in the 19th century taken from her careful notes. Until manufactured cloth, particularly inexpensive printed cotton decreased in price later in the century, few people had extensive wardrobes.

The museum put together an 1870s wool mill with a carding machine, a spinning machine and a weaving machine. An interpreter is on hand to demonstrate and explains the mill machinery to visitors most days of the week. The Textile Museum moved to its present home in a large converted manufacturing building on Dutton Street in Lowell in 1997. A member of a textile industry family started it in 1960 in North Andover.

The large museum store has woven pieces made on the museum's working looms such as table runners and other linens. Children's crafts related to textiles and weaving are for sale including potholder looms and felt craft sets, along with books. The Gazebo Cafe is open from 10-3 serving soups, salads, sandwiches and bakery items. Both the cafe and the store are also open to the public without museum admission. Runway Madness is showing through January 4, 2004.

American Textile History Museum, 491 Dutton Street, Lowell, 978-441-0400. Open Tuesday-Friday 9-4, Weekends 10-5. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission: $6 for adults, $4 for children 6-16, students with I.D., seniors and groups, and free for children under 6.

Directions: Take Route 3 North to the Lowell Connector. Take the Lowell Connector to Thorndike Street, exit 5B. Go through the traffic lights and make a left turn into the museum parking lot. Parking is free.

During October 7-11, National Spinning and Weaving Week, the Weaver's Guild of Boston will demonstrate fiber arts with looms and spinning wheels at the museum.

Fashion Week web site:, publicizes the fashion shows in New York.

Restaurant tip: Try the Olympia Restaurant at 457 Market Street, Lowell, for good, traditional Greek food such as baked lamb, moussaka, and stuffed grape leaves. It is one of the oldest restaurants in the city. 1-978-452-8092

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito