At the corner of the western median of Tillary Street and Adams Street immediately off the first exit from the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side stands a 23 feet high black bronze hand with the index finger pointed towards the sky dubbed ‘Unity’. Commissioned by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Transportation, Department of Design and Construction and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership for the purpose of the decade long efforts to revitalize the downtown neighborhoods, the local artist Hank Willis Thomas created the ‘Unity’ sculpture and oversaw the installation at the prominent intersection in the first week of November 2019.
“The spirit of Brooklyn has always been about upward mobility and connection to roots. The large-scale sculpture of a bronze arm pointing towards the sky is intended to convey to a wide audience a myriad of ideas about individual and collective identity, ambition, and perseverance,” Thomas said at the time.
‘Unity’ is not the only art sculpture in the service of the idea of unity and togetherness. “The sculpture ‘Bouquet of Tulips’ was created as a symbol of remembrance, optimism and healing,” the American artist Jeff Koons said last October 2019 at the dedication of the gift of the giant sculpture of a hand holding eleven different colorful tulips first donated in November 2016 to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks at the time in the French capital and to commemorate the idea of renovation and of emerging from the disasters.
Chitose Abe of Sacai said that a friend introduced her to the art of Hank Willis Thomas about a year ago at a gallery in Tokyo. It is easy to see how Abe is attracted to Thomas’s conceptual artworks that principally revolves around the themes of identity. From the series of works that explored and exposed the African-American male body to multitudes of social-political-cultural attacks in the last century, Thomas photographic art represents both the personal and the collective view of the delineations of what constitutes individual identity.
Thomas voice and his art reflect the current social-economic and cultural moment as exhibited by the BLM movements in June that sparked a revolution in thinking and in action across the U.S. and even ignited demonstrations in Paris, a revolution that also hit the fashion industry with questions about the diversity of those leading the multinational brands. In collaborating with this American artist who is speaking to this generation, Sacai is expanding the reach of the brand through the expansion of the audience for the brand’s products.
And in a time of introspection given the length of the pandemic lockdown, it is great to see how Abe has been able to establish such firm and recognizable signature fashion work in such a short time since debuting her brand in Paris in 2010. This men’s collection is composed principally of Abe’s DNA from her design philosophy to the fabrics all of which are from the Sacai archives, fabrics like plaids and glen checks and pinstripes (green or light browns on the blouson suits with shorts), nylon MA-1 (lapels or sleeves of cotton jackets and blousons). That Abe is able to conjure a well-edited men’s spring collection based on her own sense of aesthetics and on the pulse of the current times is a demonstration of the ability and the will of creative will to produce amidst adversity. And in times of uncertainty, customers would surely prefer clothes that they know and that they are familiar with.
To classify Sacai men’s collection as having certain silhouettes or that the collection following a certain trend or style is simply a complete misunderstanding of Abe’s concepts and her clothes which are based mainly on her instincts and feelings rather than intellectual theory. Words like fitted or boxy shapes while they can be applied to describe say a flared black and white paisley pattern trench coat worn with black short pants and black leather boots or a red mixed pattern short sleeve shirt paired with a leopard print pants respectively but these words don’t really apply or they are meaningless to this sharp and concise men’s Spring 2021 collection. Take a look at the zippered flight jacket and black shorts or the brown single-breasted jacket with MA-1 nylon lapel and shorts as examples of where the casual and the formal are indistinguishable. These looks can go either way.
This isn’t the first time Abe deployed words whose meanings depicted urgent action in the context of a potential failure of public institutions. For her fall-winter 2018 collection, Sacai worked with the New York Times to feature bold printed words and paragraphs of text on tee shirts and sweatshirts depicting words such as ‘Truth’, ‘The Truth doesn’t take sides’ and ‘The Truth is simple’ in efforts to fight the ubiquity of Fake News and the dismissals of real and substantive public discourse. ‘Love Over Rules’ was an installation Thomas created for the Sites Unseen series of site-specific artworks for Yerba Buena’s alleys in San Francisco where he mounted animated neon signs measured over six feet high letterings on the side of the Salma Family Building in November 2017.
Now in this collection, ‘Love Over Rules’ is printed in large white letters inside of reversible blousons serves the same purpose in a different ambiance and context.
As Thomas made the prints on the blousons, Abe used the artist’s way of presenting his art as a way to cut some of the recurring patterns using different available fabrics. The diamond shape pattern patchwork navy, tan and olive trench and the multiple triangular patchwork sweater reflect the same construction of Thomas’ physical artwork in the various triangular wooden panel photographic prints like the 2013 ‘If I Could Tell the Story in Words’ or the ‘Trouble the Water’ both compositions of mounted digital C-Prints and stained African mahogany. The pink and green flight M1 blouson and pink shorts are a highlight of the next spring jacket and shorts combination.
Sacai’s clothes, each of her carefully crafted garments that are composed of hybrids structures of different elements of clothes, are as individual as each of Hank Willis Thomas’ artwork.
A very short film directed by Ryuta Kimura showcasing the backstage work at the Tokyo Atelier of the preparation and the shooting of the spring collection ends with this simple reminder – “In honor of our ancestors who taught us that above all, Love Over Rules.”
WHERE FASHION GETS CREATIVE
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