Although fashion design is not my element, it is one of my wife’s great passions. Yet a recent visit to the Museum at FIT – the Fashion Institute of Technology – in New York City’s historic Chelsea neighborhood unexpectedly connected with my interest in history.
The Fashion Institute of Technology is America’s premiere college for the business and art of fashion design. Its museum’s current exhibit, Uniformity, is an entertaining exploration that will change the way you perceive the entire notion of uniforms. The 200 year retrospective from military to sports uniforms goes beyond the obvious, detailing their influence on everyday fashion from beach to formal wear.
In John Galliano’s camouflage evening gown for Dior in 2001 (above, left) the influence is obvious. Yet I never gave it much thought that this trend is at least two centuries old. What was more surprising to me is that uniforms, clothing meant to make the wearer impersonal, for so long influenced fashion designed to be individualistic.
As early as the 1840s, a portrait of Queen Victoria’s four year old son, Prince Edward Albert, in a naval uniform made a fashion statement for affluent children’s clothing. By the 1890s, summer fashion for women (above left) had a decided naval bent and the trend has never lost favor (above right)
Designer Chitose Abe in her 2015 collection for her Sacai label combines British and French naval elements in her cotton and silk ensemble.
Yet by the 1940s military uniforms themselves combined functionality and fashion.
The World War II uniform designed for the Navy’s new W.A.V.E.S. division was hailed as a fashion success – functional yet feminine. It was also the first military uniform designed by a major American couturier, the House of Mainbocher founded by Main Rousseau Bocher in 1929. But the Army’s new W.A.C. division uniform was the work of a committee. It was not only dubbed “olive drab,” but blamed for poor W.A.C. recruitment numbers compared to the Navy’s W.A.V.E.S. Even in war fashion made a statement!
Perhaps no genre of uniforms has had a greater fashion influence than sports. From the baseball cap to brand logos, America’s national sport has convinced well dressed people that being a walking advertisement for your favorite team and brands is desirable to one’s identity.
Of course football followed suit. According to FIT, Geoffrey Beene “shocked the fashion elite” in 1967 with his sequined even gown that’s simply an elongated 1930s football jersey.
FIT’s fine Uniformity exhibit doesn’t ignore the influence on fashion of maid, butler, waiter and waitress clothing. In 2015 Karl Lagerfeld designed this evening dress for the House of Chanel using the typical uniform of waiters in Parisian brasseries.
The museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, part of the State University of New York, is open Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. What was even more surprising was the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff, especially the guards. They were eager to engage in conversation and added to the pleasure of the exhibit.
You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:
“Sleepwalker” (Tony Matalli 2014) is one of numerous art installations on the innovative New York High Line park. My love affair with the High Line goes back to its opening in 2009.
Now at its full one and a half mile length, the multi dimensional brainchild of designer Diane Von Furstenberg has set a new standard for urban reuse. Anchored by the famed Whitney Museum on the north end and the vibrant Chelsea Market to the south, the thin strip of re-purposed elevated train trestle that is the High Line teems with gardens, art and people relaxing.
Although its success has drawn condo and commercial developers, at least many of the new buildings show hints of imagination. As a destination in its own right, the High Line deserves its success.
Now take a risk??
You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:
At a recent press lunch for journalists of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association and New Jersey Press Association, Yang Chao Lu, owner of 88 Palace, presented a veritable banquet of dim sum dishes over several hours.
But 88 Palace is more than a restaurant. It’s a microcosm of any Chinatown street, fun to explore and taste. Read more at…
Sitting stadium style looking out an entire glass walled side and half the ceiling of the specially outfitted bus, The Ride talks, in a deep resonating voice, not just to its customers but to people on the street as well.
The Ride deftly weaves Manhattan to give the audience a sense of the city’s energy and comedy. Read more at…
My wife and I were elated when we spied the Carousel Arcade on the Seaside Heights, New Jersey, boardwalk this past Monday, 9 September 2013. Having ridden and admired its magnificent century old Dentzel/Looff hand carved carousel with its powerful Wurlitzer organ, we were unsure it survived Superstorm Sandy. Fortunately it had, and although the arcade was closed on this post-Labor Day Monday, we peered through the window and wished we had come down earlier in the summer.
We were pleased the boardwalk, one of only a few remaining early 20th century examples of pre-digital mass entertainment, was being restored. Many small cottages that once were the summer homes to working and middle class families – along what have increasingly become beach communities for the wealthy – had not survived. Yet repair and restoration efforts were ongoing and there was hope that the character of this town, made infamous by MTV’s Jersey Shore, would survive both Snookie and Sandy.
Tragically, a mere three days later on Thursday, we listened in horror to the reports as most of the historic boardwalk went up in flames. The loss to the community is devastating. Yet miraculously the carousel with its intricately hand carved and decorated animals and the Wurlitzer player organ survived! The fire was suppressed just yards from its pavilion.
Ironically, we had just spent the previous day at the Fete Paradiso on New York’s Governors Island. On a pleasant sunny day in this military base turned park in the middle of New York harbor, we marveled along with hundreds of children, and other adults behaving like children, over more than a dozen restored late 19th and early 20th century French carnival rides and games. These treasures are part of the personal collection of Frenchmen Francis Staub and Regis Masclet, and the installation on Governors Island is their first venture to make a traveling living museum of what entertainment used to be.
The Vélocipèdes is the centerpiece of the collection. One of only two remaining, this 19th-century French carousel ran on pedal power. It was created in Paris to encourage the use of bicycles as a cleaner mode of personal urban transportation than horses. Although it’s pedal power that starts the carousel, they drive a motor invented by Nikola Tesla that adds surprising speed to the ride. The other Velocipedes is in a Paris museum and was featured in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris.
Other features include flying swings, a children’s carousel, a mechanical ball toss game of life-size caricatures of celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Josephine Baker and a magnificent mechanical pipe organ. Fete Paradiso recreates the feel of a summer carnival with entertainers from fire-eaters and sword swallowers to musicians crooning French love songs and an outdoor café created by New York’s bistro Le Gamin. For an afternoon the Fete Paradiso reminded me that people will restore and revel in a past that can still become the future.
What am I saying? I had a pleasant, imaginative, moderately priced lunch in a major urban museum’s cafe? An oxymoran….0r lack of oxygen….?
Just off the multi-storey glass atrium of the striking American Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the airy, glass walled dining space occupied by the Petrie Court Cafe & Wine Bar. My experience in most museum cafes is to forgo the over priced, microwaved offerings in favor of a coffee, but the menu at Petrie is neither overpriced nor nuked.
Perhaps the Pennsylvania Dutch were Italian, because Petrie’s pappardelle noodles (top left) are as rich as anything eaten in a Lancaster farmhouse. Tossed with a light buttery cream sauce, earthy sautéed wild mushrooms and spinach with a garnish of spinach puree, it was an inspired pasta dish ($17.95.) The Cream of Pumpkin soup (bottom left)was velvety and light – not the thick vegetable puree served in so many restaurants. A flavorful stock underpinned the soup, but the aroma of the roasted pumpkin seed oil garnish raised this common dish to a new level of flavor ($8.95). Salads should delight the eye and the taste buds. (bottom right) Spicy arugula and mixed greens tossed in a light citrus vinaigrette with slightly salty manchego cheese, pears, bright fresh pomegranate seeds and deep red pomegranate puree garnish accomplished the task nicely ($9.95). Fresh sourdough rolls accompanied the meal. Most wines were in the $8 – $9.00/glass range. Despite a busy lunch time, service was smooth and professional. Interestingly, there are few restaurants of any type within walking distance of the MET in its wealthy Upper East Side location, making the Petrie Cafe & Wine Bar a welcome, and much-needed, addition to the neighborhood.
Little Giant cafe, on the corner of Broome and Orchard Streets, certainly would not have existed in 1870’s Lower East Side New York – or even 1970’s. Not that eating establishments didn’t exist back then. Taverns and street vendors have flourished from the city’s founding nearly 400 years ago. In the picture above, left side, you can see the sign for famous Katzs Deli serving the (then immigrant) Jewish community since 1888. Now an institution, but still terrific, its 21st century clientele is an ever-increasing affluent population of “post-immigrant” residents. Just a block down from the Tenement Museum, Little Giant is a laid back cafe in a renovated, exposed brick store front in an early 20th century Lower East Side building. In earlier days maybe it was a cloth store? It’s small space – seats 20/25 – is filled even at 3:00 pm on a weekday and keeps the small staff busy. The menu is brief but items are freshly made so be patient. The Angus Beef burger was fresh ground and grilled medium rare as requested ($9.95). A “little giant” portion of their own Mac and Cheese was excellent. Like Petrie’s Pumpkin Soup, Little Giant’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese eschewed thickeners and relied on a well seasoned, but medium, cheese sauce to bind the macaroni and garnished with a nice crust of browned bread crumbs for texture ($7.00/$14.00). A well seasoned “salad” of sautéed kale with oyster mushrooms was tasty and nutritious for anyone wondering about all that red meat ($9.95). The bar served a nice selection of micro beers on tap and bottle, wines by the glass and a great Bloody Mary with horseradish-infused vodka ($10.00). With its large store front windows, it was pleasant leisurely having lunch while watching the bustle which is always New York.
Finding imaginative Southwest American cuisine in New York is as difficult as in Albuquerque. Face it, real Southwest/Tex-Mex/Mexican-American is comfort food – like pasta with red sauce for Italians. To find chefs that create new dishes using old techniques is always nice and not common in the commercial world of the food industry.
Sante Fe, 73, West 71st Street, in the leafy but happening Upper West Side of New York, serves recognizable southwest dishes yet tweak the recipes giving them new life. Citrus and herb marinated thin-sliced grilled skirt steak is wrapped in a tortilla and served with a micro green salad ($12.95). A fresh lump-meat crab cake topped with a poached egg and covered with a roasted smoky tomato sauce is a flavorful variation on a brunch standard, with a green salad and rice pilaf ($14.95). Excellent house salsa accompanied corn chips and the house Margarita ($8.00 or $11.00) was citrus fresh and tequilla rich – not a mix. The restaurant itself is a relaxing space in light airy southwest peach, art, a fireplace and good acoustics (quiet!)
New York can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy to find great food in this “world capital” at prices most people tolerate at their local shopping mall’s food court!
Commerce has been the purpose of New York since its founding a mere 400 years ago. Because of its vast wealth, the world has settled within the city. In some cases pieces of the world have been purchased to reside in New York – from Egyptian temples to Chicago staircases. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tenement Museum bookcase the spectrum of forces that shape this world metropolis.
The MET was co-founded in 1870 by four men whose backgrounds were as varied as the city. John Taylor Johnston, from a prominent New York family, made a fortune in railroads, was an avid art collector and fulfilled a life-long dream in creating the MET. Eastman Johnston was an acclaimed artist from well-connected New England stock. George Palmer Putnam, founder of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, was a leading publisher of art books. All three men were intellectually curious and well-traveled.
Yet I personally find it fascinating that an Italian military officer, immigrant, American Civil War hero and diplomat, General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, served as the Museum’s first director (1879-1904). Not only had General di Cesnola a noted military career both in Europe and America, but as a “gentleman archeologist” – the only type in the 19th century – he had amassed a stunning collection of ancient Mediterranean art and artifacts. His collection became the genesis of the Met, and during his 25 year tenure the MET achieved international patronage and stature. Like all great art institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is meant to be absorbed in stages through many visits as its collection span the ages.
A shorter, but no less significant, spectrum of life is represented in the unique New York City Tenement Museum on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Without the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants between 1870 and the 1930’s, the American economic engine would have been severely hampered. Yet these seekers of a better life lived, worked and loved in small, dark rooms in row upon row of brick walk-ups built on narrow streets and created the 20th century.
Well-trained, professional tour guides immerse the visitor in the everyday life of actual tenants who lived in the buildings on Orchard Street that comprise the museum. You’re in their cramped quarters. You see, or rather don’t see, how these families from Eastern Europe, and elsewhere, could accomplish their piece-work in the dim light of a gray winter afternoon, no less work 18 hours a day. From the memories of family members, we understand that many of the dreams of these immigrants were realized by future generations.
Perhaps some in the current post-immigrant generation are now exercising in that health club off Orchard Street above the Duane Reade drug store and living in renovated $1,400/month 3 room “tenement” apartments now renting on the Lower East Side!
The ancestors certainly didn’t have lunch at Giant (stay tuned).
Staircase from Chicago Stock Exchange Building, 1893, Louis Sullivan, architect (now part of the MET)
The unexpected fireworks were free, in celebration of the 2010 New York Marathon that would be run the following day. We had just stepped out of Pasha Restaurant on West 71st Street, when the booming commenced. It was an unexpected end to a pleasant Turkish dinner, one of the great cuisines. The interior of Pasha is comfortable with soft lighting and well modulated background music. From 5:00 to 7:00 PM the $23.95, 3-course, prix fixe menu is well thought out attracting repeat customers with five choices from the main menu (not the boredom of so many prix fixe selections.) My wife had the prix fixe with a salad, Piya (Cannellini beans tossed with sweet onions, scallions, parsley, tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil) with warm flaky rolls to absorb the herbs. Alabalik Tava followed (Boneless brook trout dusted with cornmeal and pan seared). Dessert was a wedge of perfect baklava – (non-syrupy) – spice, nut and honey infused pyhllo pastry. For $24.95, I had the fish entrée of the day: a whole, wood-grilled Chilean Sea Bass. Its moist white meat was encased by its crispy, herbed skin. Side dishes were crisp, steamed vegetables and an herb-infused rice pilaf. It was not wise to arrive on a Saturday night without a reservation – even if it was only 5:30 PM. Yet Pasha was gracious and had a table that was not booked until 7:30 PM, but I would recommend reservations since the dinning room was full by 6:30.
At West 78th’s Drilling Company Theater, we attended a moving and jarring new play, superbly acted and produced by this award-winning 11-year old company. Eric Sanders’ Reservoir is a heart wrenching look at the psychological detritus of war – the “survivors”. At $18/ticket, the Drilling Company proves that top theater is found everywhere in New York before it moves on to $200/ticket on Broadway. Saturday evening’s dinner, theater (and fireworks) cost less than $130/couple.
Actually, Lederhosen Bierhaus is not nearly as kitsch as their home web site suggests. On Grove Street, off Christopher Street in the trendy East Village, Lederhosen has the atmosphere of a neighborhood bierhaus. In my two visits, over a six month period, I’ve yet to see any staff wear either lederhosen or rhinestone decorated milk-maid dresses. Of course, I’ve yet to order the decidedly college-fraternity sized boot of beer. In smaller, more manageable quantities, their superb selections on-tap, and in bottles, set the stage for equally authentic Bavarian bierhaus food. Main courses ranged from the classic Schnitzel to sautéed herring fillets with mushroom sauce (I had that). Each generous portion comes with a variety of sides, minimum four – green and red cabbage slaw, potato salads, sautéed potatoes, bean salads, spatzzle. (average entrée $10 – 19) Soft, aromatic, in-house pretzels are served with german mustards ($3.00) along with a variety of wurst on crispy rolls with toppings ($5.00), appetizers for pickle and herring lovers ($5.00) and generous soups and sandwiches ($5.00- $10.00) round out a menu to be enjoyed in a convivial atmosphere that’s hard to top – unless you just really don’t like German food, but then…you can always try their flights of beer (8, I believe) with shots of schnapps.
On our first visit to Lederhosen we were with an Austrian friend who was impressed with the quality of this everyday German pub faire. In the picture above the three dishes are from left: Boneless Herring Fillets with a choice of sauces ($10), Currywurst grilled beef sausage ($5.00) and Wiener Schnitzel ($17) Ah yes, those are lederhosen hanging from the ceiling (top left). The restaurant has three small rooms that fill quickly for lunch and dinner. Reservations are not accepted except for special occasions, but waiting times are typically not long, and you can always have a beer while you stand in the social bar entrance area.
Marie’s Crisis Cafe, 59 Grove Street,is oddly unique in bridging a number of Lower Manhattan social stages. The below street level bar is dark as should be expected when in an 18th century building – once home to Tom Paine, where he penned his famous revolutionary essays The Crisis Papers. It went down-hill after that going from bar/brothel to worse until Prohibition (by the 1920’s it was known as Marie’s). After Prohibition’s 1930’s end, Marie’s somehow qualified for a stunning WPA funded reverse painted glass wall mural depicting both the French and American Revolutions, launching a new era.
On Grove Street just off Christopher and 7th Ave, (and only 4 or 5 blocks from the Lederhosen) this area of the Village was always known for being largely gay, hip and culturally cutting edge. For over 35 years the latest reincarnation of Marie’s Crises Cafe has witnessed the neighborhood’s transformation from grunge to designer chic. Yet Marie’s Crises Cafe has remained a relaxing, straight-friendly, singing piano bar and neighborhood hangout. My wife, friends and I have spent several evenings enjoying the ongoing concert with professional theater pianist playing at the separate piano bar. The pianists of the evening have terrific voices and encyclopedic musical theater repertoire, but its the participation of patrons that take Marie’s to a different level. We’re not talking karaoke here. Regular patrons at Marie’s are often the seasoned professional as well as the young aspiring male or female stage singers. There is more standing room than sitting room and the bar is basic but inexpensive ($6 – $7/beer and $8 – $10/shots and drinks). Yet there’s no cover for this top-notch entertainment.
Between Lederhosen Bierhaus and Marie’s Crisis piano bar, a Friday evening in Manhattan’s Village for two, with dinner, entertainment and drinks cost us less than $100.00
We were staying with a friend on Staten Island, a pleasant, free, 20 minute ferry ride that passes Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but it’s viewing Manhattan at night that’s magical. Staten Island’s an article in itself, but one restaurant stands out, amidst a sea of mediocrity.
We had Sunday dinner at Bayou Restaurant, 1072 Bay Street, in the middle of a nondescript commercial strip. Yet there’s nothing nondescript about the execution of its Louisiana inspired menu. My wife, a New Orleans native was impressed with the Cajun Seafood stew, our friend’s Seafood bake and my rack of lamb – all with Cajun spices and Louisiana’s French/Spanish inspired sauces. Dinner per person, with wine and tip, for 3 was $136.00 ($46/per person). Everything else we did that day of the Marathon was free(no, we didn’t run…now if it was a hike…).
True, we spent the weekend at a friend’s apartment, but before the invitation, I had planned to use some rewards points for two-nights at a first class Manhattan hotel that, without points, would have cost $600 for the weekend. Responsible use of travel reward credit cards can result in significant savings on future trips.
For a bit over $350/couple we had dinner and entertainment for three weekend days, two nights, plus subway fares on the city’s efficient, renovated system. Manhattan on a budget? Actually, no – Manhattan on the smarts. With a little reading/skimming – New York Times (paper or on-line), New Yorker magazine and blogs – it’s easy to create a list of favorites.
There’s nothing like New York…at least to visit for a weekend.
I well remember the crumbling elevated rail (the Hi-Line) from 34th street to the warehouses, bakeries and docks 13 miles down Manhattan. To my teenage eyes in the 1960’s it was all part of the look and aromas of the exotic multi-ethnic, working class warrens of Chelsea and lower Manhattan. Forty years later the area still retains a touch of the exotic even if its present day residents vacation in the ancestral countries, eat in the upscale ethnic restaurants and live in multi-million dollar condos.
The 1929 Hi-Line rail link ceased in 1980 and crumbled until gentrified Chelsea residents created the Friends of the Hi-Line in 1999. In just ten years, this dynamic organization cut through the bureaucracy, gained powerful supporters, financial backers and opened the first of three sections of what is a unique urban elevated park.
The High-Line’s design is a deft melding of urban chic, live performance art, natural landscaping incorporating the essential rail road backbone, art installations, arts & crafts, cafe stalls and a tiered public plaza overlooking Tenth Ave.
Valerie Hegarty’s art installation actually hangs on the fence that separates Section One from continuing construction on the remainder of the park. A stroll on a pleasant autumn weekend afternoon was relaxing and stimulating in only a way great urban centers create. Yet where Central Park hides the visitor from the city, the High-Line provides a panoramic view.
Even if you just need to walk the ten blocks from Gansevoort Street on 10th Avenue in Chelsea up to 20th Street, then why not use the Hi-Line rather than street level. You might even meet up with a …oh wait…that was the 1960’s. This doll’s a great 1930’s jazz singer, on the Hi-Line.