MODERN METROPOLIS: The New York Skyline in Textile Design, 1890-1940

Next Saturday the Fashion and Textiles Studies program at FIT will hold their annual symposium. To get you excited, we will share some of the papers that will be presented in the week to come.  We hope to see you there. The event is free and open to the public.

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MODERN METROPOLIS: The New York Skyline in Textile Design, 1890-1940

 by

Kyla I. Katigbak

View of the New York Skyline from Brooklyn c.1930.  Samuel H. Gottscho, Midtown skyline from Brooklyn, gelatin silver print, c.1930.  The Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.5.24.

View of the New York Skyline from Brooklyn c.1930.
Samuel H. Gottscho, Midtown skyline from Brooklyn, gelatin silver print, c.1930.
The Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.5.24.

Many consider the New York skyline to be the greatest American visual export of the twentieth century, advertising the progress of American industry and design. With piercing and crenellated silhouettes comprised of soaring steel and gleaming glass, skyscrapers such as the Chrysler and the Empire State Buildings helped define the modern New York skyline and served as awe-inspiring symbols that captivated many imaginations of the period.

In my paper, I will begin by highlighting how the New York skyline became a source of design inspiration for many textile designers from the 1920s through the 1930s. Textile designs such as Manhattan by Ruth Reeves directly captured the contemporary fascination with progress and modern urban life, while other textiles, such as one also entitled Manhattan by Stehli Silks, concentrated on stylized representations of this frenetic cityscape.

Over time, designers influenced by twentieth century art and design movements such as Cubism, Futurism, and Art Deco, further abstracted these depictions, resulting in two distinct styles: imagined cityscapes and highly stylized patterns that recalled the geometric form and ornamentation of New York City’s architecture.  In this section of my paper, I will present textiles and garments such as a jacket from the Museum at FIT’s collection with a screen-printed imagined cityscape to illustrate the former, while a dress by Chanel featuring geometric sequin embroidery mimicking a city skyline will represent the latter. These will be shown with related objects such as stills from the Fritz Lang film Metropolis, a painting by Tullio Crali entitled Cityscape, and a photograph of a store window designed by Louis Lozowick for Lord & Taylor to illustrate the global reach of this phenomenon in various artistic media.

Ruth Reeves, Manhattan, c.1928, Block-printed cotton, Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

Ruth Reeves, Manhattan, c.1928, Block-printed cotton, Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

With the advent of World War II, the interest in the urban metropolis began to wane.  As the exodus out of the city gained popular support in the post-war years, the depiction of the modern metropolis faded from the public imagination. I conclude by describing this decline in detail and briefly show the fashion for depicting idealized suburban and country life, which ultimately replaced these metropolitan motifs.

Kyla Ibañez Katigbak earned her BS in fiber science and apparel design from Cornell University and is scheduled to complete her MA in Fashion and Textile Studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in May 2014. She worked for several years in product development for Elie Tahari, Ltd. and has interned at the Ralph Lauren Library and the Costume Collection at The Museum at FIT. She was a Krueger Intern at The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and is currently interning with their textile conservation department. Upon graduation she will be returning to Ralph Lauren where she will work as the Coordinator for the Rare and Historical Design Division of their archive.

 

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