Making Waves: Japanese Fashion’s Petite Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum

In Shock Wave, the Denver Art Museum carefully curates Japanese fashion design from the 1980’s-90’s in a magnificent yet humble display.  This was a pivotal time for Japanese fashion designer that features the likes of Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Junya Watanabe. The designers reinvented classics from European designers such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior whilst also inspiring contemporary fashion designers including Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, John Galliano, and Dries Van Noten. The exhibit did a fantastic job displaying the Japanese designers next to their counterparts–intermixing in a sensible way by style and form rather than randomly throwing in European designers against the Japanese greats or trying to press a forced chronology.

Shock Wave is also a mixed media exhibition that smartly adds video to fill the small, almost awkward museum. space it absorbs.  The four video installations highlighted different runway shows, bringing the clothes on display to life with simplicity and displaying the theatrical quality and movement of the clothes as was intended be the designers. The most captivating is Miyake’s show that featured models walking a square “runway” reminiscent of a sumo wrestling ring. Another video shows the backstage dressing of models so the viewer can examine the subtle complexities of the flowy, boxy Japanese garments and you would probably want to purchase a copy of the informational video with your couture.

The final highlight of the exhibit are the “invisible” dress forms created by Allison McCloskey, associate textile conservator, especially for Shock Wave. Almost every garment is hung on a hand-shaped dress form that is made from soft materials (either foam core or a  soft polyester felt that is molded than hardened with heat). These completely customized mannequins serve many purposes, including, providing the actual softness of a live model. In many fashion exhibits, clothes are stretched over mannequins and appear lifeless but with this new technique it actually looks like someone is wearing the clothes because the pleats, boning, and other structural elements can fall in the correct place. It was critical that these dress forms were created because there is an entire section of the exhibit devoted to oversized garments that are near impossible to display on a standard mannequin. The museum created a fascinating behind-the-scenes video where you can watch the shaping and dressing of the forms. It is always true that small shifts, have an incredible impact.

Shock Wave is Florence Muller’s first exhibition at the Denver Art Museum after she curated the traveling Yves Saing Laurent Retrospective with mediocre success. Shock Waves closes May 28th so if you are in Denver in the upcoming months and have a passion for fashion and an appreciation for its history make sure to visit this exhibition.

Coffee Shop Review #21 Bellwether

Down in Denver, exploring new coffee shops per usual. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5(Way down on East Colfax Bellwether stands alone as a destination rather than a spot to stop in on a walkabout. However, Bellwether serves as a four stops in one shop featuring a cafe, small racks of clothing, a barbershop and a whiskey bar at night. The neighborhood is definitely up and coming and there are some emerging restaurants. as well as, the three great Denver music venues: The Bluebird, The Gothic Theater, and The Ogden. However, you will need to drive anywhere you are trying to go so it is best to square away some quality time and stay in rather than order coffee to take).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at Bellwether are 1 for 1 so they are batting a 100 so far. The man serving us was so pleasant and in lieu of other customers hung about our table to discuss the changing Denver scene and tell us about the cafe. He was very well-dressed, which reflected the aesthetic of the store and clothing for sale very well. A peak in the back barbershop revealed well-coiffed attractive hipsters as to be expected).

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Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(We ordered two cappuccinos and a Kenya pour over to sample the coffee selection for taste, variety, and consistency. Bellwether serves coffee from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a well-known Boulder/Denver roaster that is on the rise.  The cappuccinos were a bit dry (more foam) and the espresso did not have an unctuous taste, it was drier as if the beans were older and roasted to be more bitter. The Kenya pour over was served in a massive tin camping mug which was a great start. The coffee was flavorful, full bodied and was carefully prepared to bring out the fruity flavors).

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Ambiance-5(The design is where Bellwether truly shines. The all black and white color palette oozes a coolness that is very effortless. Simple chairs and tables complement focal design touches like the sewing table desk, overstuffed Winchester sofas, and fantastic Ducati motorcycle. Floor to ceiling windows on the street-facing wall let in ample light to brighten the dark features. The whiskey and coffee bar is very simple, neat and uncluttered which confirms the crisp, unfussed vibe).

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Food/Pastry Selection-3.5(A very meager single glass pastry stand held a few savory and sweet muffins, scones, and cookies. The selections did look appetizing and sound original but clearly was an afterthought for the cafe. Without having sampled any particular baked good I would ventrue to say they looked like they would tast very good but will need to confirm).

Overall Rating:4,1

Flower or Fiction?

This past weekend for my last couple days in Boulder I had been dying to go to the Chihuly Glass Exhibit at the Denver Botanical Gardens. I have been a fan of Dale Chihuly’s amazing glass blowing since I saw an exhibition of his in Sacramento in 2002 and subsequent exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and permanent installment in the Bellagio Hotel.

The Denver Botanical Gardens was my fist time seeing the glass sculptures incorporated into the natural landscape. The pieces fit so beautifully with the flora and fauna that it was sometimes hard to tell weather you were gazing at a plant or stalk of Chihuly glass. Seeing the gardens in bloom accentuated the flowers because you could see that every shade of the glass matched the surrounding growth. The two water installments were beyond gorgeous with the old carved wooden boats contrasting the light and modern glass. The reflection of the glass in the pools of water was also stunning, as it added to the natural fluidity of the glass. Our attempt had been to see the gardens at the gloaming period so we could see them transition from light to dark. We saw a few pieces lit up but came a bit to early to stay for the overall effect. I have heard it is magical so if you take a trip down to the gardens I strongly encourage you to go around 7 o’clock.

But enough talk, words cannot really do the Chihuly exhibit justice so I’ll highlight a few photographs from the gardens that should inspire a visit. The glass will remain in the gardens until November 30th so make sure to check it out if you are in Denver.

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Denver Emerging Artist: Serena Louise

Recently I sat down with my friend and extremely talented artist Serena Louise Williams. I have had the pleasure of working, learning, and hanging with Serena for the past couple years and her personal style as well as artist aesthetic is vibrant and inspiring. What started as a coffee catch up at St, Mark’s Coffeehouse (see review) in Denver became a stimulating conversation about Serena’s art.

While she received a BA in Visual Arts K-12 Teaching at the University of Northern Colorado and has contributed  improved art curriculums in schools Serena’s heart lies in fine art. With her drive and creativity she definitely has the potential to realize her aspirations and follow her dream of living abroad in order to spread her artistic spirit.

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You are HERE (YAH): I want to talk about the inspiration behind the three series you are featuring in your portfolio on Art By Serena Louise.. When I look at “The ‘Unorthadox’ Series” you chose to examine the fascinating form of octopi. Growing up in Colorado I want to know where this very fluid seaside influence came from because it seems unexpected from an artist living in a land locked state?

Serena Louise (SL): The Unorthodox series began as a color study for my final semester of college. I wanted to go big and bold with little concept. The symbol of the octopus is a fascinating one. For those who don’t know, they have the ability to remove their limbs. This could be a tool for escape in time of danger, they grow them back with no harm to themselves. My father grew up in St. Petersberg, Florida. He spent a lot of his youth visiting the islands of the Caribbean. He told me a story once, where he was diving around old shipwrecks and found an octopus stuck inside of a toilet. He watched amazed as this octopus literally ripping itself apart to escape the porcelain prison. The octopus showed that it easily lets go. They are said to be independent and choose their own paths. In a personification of the octopus, they are “unorthodox” doing things in an alternative manner and achieving similar or better results. I feel that I am, in a way, that alternative in my life. Therefore, I am the “unorthodox” creature.

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YAH: Moving onto “Face” I see the subtle reference to the artist St. Vincent in “St. Vincent Polka Dot.” Are all of these almost caricatures based off figures in popular culture or is St. Vincent in inspiration to you?

SL: “Faces” started out as sketching exercises and I soon developed a style with pen. Some of the faces were from my own imagination. Most of the faces in the series are from references, however, I always take my own liberties when creating them. I change their facial structure, or expression, and give them a new name. Most, honestly, are models in the fashion industry. “St. Polka Dot” is indeed St. Vincent. She has not become an inspiration for me, but I adore the aesthetics of her face.

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YAH: Who or what does influence your work?

SL: My childhood has influenced my work in a very deep way. Being an only child, I was left to my own imagination for my adventures in entertainment. My dad had created such a unique home with all his handy skills. The entire house was his work and the yards were filled with magic. Thus, the style of whimsy within my work. Secondly, the concept of “Wabi Sabi”, a term coined by the Japanese. It means to find beauty in the imperfect. After creating pieces for more than half my life, I have found that my art is so far from perfect. There is something always quirky or slightly off about it. Wabi Sabi has become a purposeful act in my life. I am also inspired by the German Expressionists of the early 1900s.

YAH: I see “The Bird Hause” as very bright and playful work, tell me about this?

SL: “The Bird Hause” was the start of my obsession with watercolors. I was learning to gain control over the pigment and the water ratios. I am proud to say that watercolor is the one major skill in the mediums of art that I am completely self taught. It is one of the most difficult forms of painting there is, at least in my opinion. “The Bird Hause” was my door to the wonders of that medium. Birds are the most naturally whimsical animals on the planet (besides fish). They possess colors and patterns out of this world. They have the ability to walk, fly, and swim. How could I not go there? The series began with “Fran” the swan. I began to imagine all the species of birds, how each one was so different and presented a different level of control. Giving them all names made them more relatable and almost personified them. “The Bird Hause” is like a family portrait.

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YAH: I know a lot of people like to ask where you see yourself as an artist in the future but I want to know what direction do you see for your art in the future coinciding with your development as an artist?

SL: I see my art growing outward, bringing with it the continued themes of life paths, animal symbolism, and never forgetting the playfulness. I never want to take myself too seriously, and always have fun creating. I see my art taking on new forms, becoming larger, grander, and maybe even changing dimensions.

YAH: Do you think there are specific challenges or advantages that come with being an artist in Denver versus say an over saturated urban art center like New York or San Francisco?

SL: Yes! Oh my word, challenges are endless, I think being in any city. Denver may not be as large as those saturated cities, but it already holds its established groups of artists. When being an emerging artist, finding your niche in a community that shares the same values as you is a huge obstacle. I have a photographer friend that lives in San Francisco and his advice is to carve your own niche. I think being entrepreneurial today is the best way to go about being an artist in a city. The advantage of living in Denver is the exposure you have to all the art and life styles, but there is still room for your own look.

YAH: Speaking of San Francisco, the last time we talked you were doing a sort of combined piece with a friend living there. This is really interesting, how does this “shared piece” work?

SL: My friend Marcos and I agreed to do a collaborative project in hopes of sparking our own individual works. He is a photographer and I am kind of a jack of all trades. We have been mailing a 12″ by 12″ canvas back and forth, for about a year now, adding images each time. For each canvas we choose a theme and a medium. This one we are about to complete was themed “Action” and we used photography and painting to collage. After each “turn” we write a small response on the images we chose and why. Developing literature with art is vital. We usually have a loose deadline of completing our “turn” in 3 days and then mailing it back. But life happens, and things get pushed aside. I am hoping that we can develop a large portion of collaged canvases and start a blog. Someday we hope to even do a show in the Bay Area and in Denver.

Find out about Serena Louise’s latest project “Finders Keepers” and check out all of her work online. I can’t wait to see more from this artist in the future, definitely a creator who will never stop growing and pushing her limits.

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Coffee Shop Review #15 St. Mark’s Coffeehouse Denver

The long-awaited next coffee shop review installment has come at last. If you can still recall, from way back when, categories are out of 5.

Location-4.5 (Taking a break from the coffee wasteland that Boulder has become, I headed down to Denver to meet my awesome friend Serena for an after work cafe catch up. We drove to St. Mark’s Coffeehouse which is near City Park in Northeast Denver. This parkside neighborhood is super cute and has lush trees covering up small, ornate houses. The neighborhood is not the most easily accessible from say downtown Denver and parking can be hit or miss but it has carved out it’s own little niche of the student/worker vibe).

Barista Cuteness-5 (For the first time, I think in my coffee outing lifetime I saw a single barista behind the bar handling everything from ringing up customers, doling out baked goods, and, of course, finessing the espresso machine. This single barista was also quite handsome and very personable. He executed all of his jobs with great ease and he served up perhaps the most efficient service I have ever seen. Sometimes less is indeed more).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4 (The simple menu yielded the standard cappuccino test but I did see a line of jars of coffee beans that I will be eager to scan more thoroughly on my next visit. The barista made some cute and comical attempts at naming his coffee art blobs and the espresso had a bit of a singed, bitter taste. This saddened me, as I had high hopes for the amazing creamsicle colored espresso machine and the man behind it).

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Ambiance- 4 (Both inside and out were eclectic and humming with a nice relaxed tone. One table was paired with two chairs with insanely large sculpted backs that almost connected to make a canopy over the table. A bar very reminiscent of an Italian stand-up espresso shop sat empty and a touch out of place in the middle of the room. The outside was very pleasant with lots of umbrella coverage and sturdy iron tables. However, the creaky, metal folding chairs were in dire need of some love and oiling. The huge open sliding window gave a great view into the front of the cafe which had perfectly reasonable tables for working and chatting with Edison bulbs strung over them).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.5 (From the case of glistening cookies, cakes, scones, croissants and more we elected to share a peach tart. The pastry was extremely buttery and light while the peach filling was nice and tangy, not too sweet. It was quite a hard choice to make so another trip back will surely be needed to satisfy further pastry indulgences. The panini menu looked simple and was actually quite affordable as far as coffee shop standards go, with sandwiches ranging in price from $5-$6. A group across the way got a savory treat that smelled very good so I have a feeling that the taste probably lined up).

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Overall Rating: 4.4

 

 

Sweet but not Sweet, the New Hit Dessert

After perusing my blog, it’s safe to say I love desserts. Treat time is my favorite hour and pastries, chocolate, and gelato will always have my heart. While this is true I am actually not the biggest fan of outright sweets i.e. candy, syrups, and other sugar-intense delicacies. So when looking at a dessert menu it is always difficult to find a dessert that is not boring but not sickeningly sweet sounding. A recent trip to Lower 48 in Denver, Colorado had me face-to-face with an enticing dessert menu with four original items that all sounded divine.

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Pretty intriguing choices right? We decided to go for the boldest option and ordered the Brown Butter and Comte Pudding. This was the most surprising dessert I have ever gotten and one of the best I have ever had. The dish looked like a strawberry shortcake with pickled cherries and strawberries layered on the brown butter cheese pudding sandwiched between delicate sourdough rounds. The dollop of sourdough ice cream on top of the stack and swashes of apple balsamic on the plate were a beautiful compliment to the dish. The dessert was exceptionally composed and was impeccably balanced between sour, slight sweet, and buttery flavor. My brother described the dish as knocking you out with simultaneously an “iron fist and a velvet glove.” This pretty much captures the essence of the dish because you are first hit with the rather pungent, raw sourdough flavor and then assuaged with the smooth, rich comte cheese and sweet, tangy fruit.

Lower 48’s dessert menu is commendable for its complexity and creativity. The direction of this restaurant excites me for the future of all dessert menus. This sleek, airy, industrial spot is definitely worth a trip for cocktails and delicious treats. I would definitely recommend a stop by soon!

A quick jaunt to Colorado yields great culinary and fashion results.

Stay awhile at Linger-Denver’s burgeoning food scene is producing some key new players that will excite the culinary traveler who finds themselves on a visit to the Mile High City. On Friday I went to Linger, a small plates restaurant and bar that brings you street food from around the world. The easy, fun mood is set immediately when guests are served a bowl of BBQ seasoned popcorn instead of bread. The menu is divided up by geographic locations that include: Americas, Asia, South Asia, Africa & Middle East, and Europe & Eurasia. A menu that tries to encompass all cuisine is initially frightening to me because I usually think a restaurant should stick to doing on thing really well versus a variety of things mediocre. Linger surprised me and most of the dishes proved to be quite a successful representation of their locales. The standouts were the Popper “Breakdown”, Chicken B’stila, Lemongrass Shrimp, and the Mongolian BBQ Bun. These little bites were packed with flavor and had an authentic yet updated quality about them. Linger’s latin twist on the Bananas Foster also proved quite interesting and was a great treat to wrap up the meal.

Stay current, stay cool at Common Era-With two locations in Boulder and Denver the independently owned retail store Common Era lets you make your mark on the fashion world without breaking the bank. The store hosts a mixed amount of current and vintage-inspired silhouettes that are sure to suit all body types. Fall is in and the ankle boot collection featuring Seychelles and BC brands are to die for. With a multitude of colors and cuts you are sure to find the perfect dress, fall sweater, or stylish jacket you are looking for. The extremely helpful and knowledgable staff love putting together looks for customers so you can leave with an easy, perfect outfit that is tailored just for your own style. Clothes at Common Era make you feel great because you don’t have to compromise quality for price and you are assured to walk out with small-batch made pieces that will leave people asking “where’d you get that?”

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