Kaisik Wong: “People are opening up more and finding more reasons to dress in ways that show their emotions.”
Wong went on to be a hugely impactful designer on the West Coast, with a reputation that quickly traveled internationally. By bringing the hand and design sensibilities of couture traditions to his counter-culture ethos, Wong is frequently celebrated in fashion history books and admired as an influential artist of his time. He was a great loss to the design world when he left form in 1990.
Native Funk & Flash saw additional press in 2002 by way of a highly publicized question of copyright infringement hit the media as the House of Balenciaga’s lead designer Nicholas Ghesquiere duplicated the Wong vest (above) seen in Native Funk & Flash and included it in a collection with this internationally distributed label. The case still stands as a centerpiece of conversation about appropriation and copyright infringement in the arts.
There’s about a four-month wait to have a pair of these nifty shoes or boots made up. Apple Cobbler—also known as Mickey—talks easily in a stream of consciousness style about his foam and fabric shoes: “I don’t want to make them when I’m not into it because then it won’t transfer into them—the magic, you know? I like to work for people who feel that way about them —‘It will make me sing better tonight’—and it seems that it does if you have a performance.”
Mickey McGowan’s Unknown Museum and his work as an artist and collector continues today with accolades. Google him for YouTube videos and more about the Unknown Museum.
The lumpy cloak comes into its own in this age of stitched, sewn and stuffed works. Dorothy Flash used crewel wools and multi-colored fabric scraps to make up a very heavy ritual garment. Her experience resembles that of many of the folk artists we’ve talked to: the spiritual nature and pleasure of the work—the process of the work—is the best reason for doing it.
Dorothy’s son still keeps her memory alive in New York City, though her “stage” name didn’t follow her into her later years.
Another patron of the arts is radio personality Tom Donahue, whose particular affection goes to the work of Linda Bacon. The Funk & Flash copy suggests that her embroidery on his clothing is sure to be bequeathed, too, though perhaps no future owner will ever fill it out as expansively as Tom has. In fact, no one ever got those jeans. He was buried in them when he died in 1975. His shoes are by Apple Cobbler.
Tom Donahue is still celebrated today as a central figure in rock’n’roll history and the creator of underground radio. Linda Bacon continues her work as an artist, having set down needle and thread some time ago in exchange for a paintbrush. Enjoy her work at <http://lindabacon.com/>.
Then there are the Glitter Boys, popping up in the sixties and coming into their own in the seventies. What with the Cockettes and all, the “movement” has undergone considerable fragmentation. Like cinema buffs discussing Hollywood of the thirties, Scrumbley and I followed the development of the Cockettes through the influence of Hibiscus and the Floating Lotus Opera Company to the first and legendary Halloween Party at San Francisco’s Palace Theater, then into two and a half years as a performing group. They even had an engagement in New York. New York wasn’t ready.
Billy Bowers and Scrumbley still work together today with fellow Cockettes Fayette Hauser, Rumi Missabu, Sweet Pam and others to stage original Cockettes performances worldwide and keep the spirit of it all alive. <www.cockettes.com>
Mary Ann Schildknecht
Perhaps the most spectacular single piece and story belong to Mary Ann Schildknecht. While serving a two-year jail sentence in Milan on a hashish-smuggling charge, Mary Ann was taught to embroider by the nuns. One day she decided to embroider a whole shirt, so she tore her bedsheets into pieces of the right size and started at the sun. She then worked to the left side—the sky, the trees, the forest scene, the Road to the Sun. “That’s all fine and dandy,” she thought, “but I need a house. It might as well be a castle for parties and…the hole in the other sleeve is for a transfusion if I ever need one, the peacock on the back is because we need animals, and the psychedelic sleeve because I didn’t want to think.”
Mary Ann is now rumored to be tending bar somewhere in San Francisco.
There are dresses I like to call “lifetime dresses,” like Laurel Burch’s things, heirlooms that you’ll be happy to wear for many years and then pass on as treasures to your sons and daughters.
Laurel Burch’s jewelry and garments are featured in Native Funk & Flash and helped launch a career that would come to create internationally distributed lines of textiles, beads, jewelry, paintings and garments that are still available today. You can see more at <www.laurelburch.com>, though her childhood illness claimed her finally in 2007.
So here’s the art of costuming, no craftsmanship, and the use of common elements like patchwork pieces and old doilies. It’s all joined with a fantastic ability to achieve an effect, rivaling the scary old shamans of past times for sheer outrageous impact.
Offering his work to not only the Cockettes and countless rockstars including Alice Cooper and members of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, Bowers’ prolific career as a maker has led his works to significant collections worldwide including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. More of his work can be seen at <www.queer-arts.org>.
Alex and Lee
“Within the meditation of Love and Peace lies our inspiration for creation. We view ourselves as instruments through which a psychic language of affirmation materializes. We seek reflections that carry one to visions where contrast is harmony. We view our jewelry as devotional talismans to adorn the temple of the body. The moment of all possibilities is the time-space of our perspective. Our process of collaboration leads us to the mystical reunion of at-one-ment.”
The Alex & Lee brand has been fully revived today through the efforts of Lee Brooks collaborating with his partner Greg Franke after the death of Alex Mate in the early 1990s. Alex & Lee continues to evolve as one of one of the most influential American heritage accessory brands of the past 40 years. Visit them at www.alexandlee.com.