Some notes on The Fashion Show Poetry Event (1969) – Kaplan Harris

The Fashion Show Poetry Event was organized by Hannah Weiner, Eduardo Costa, & John Perreault in 1969. It took place at the Center for Inter-American Relations on Park Avenue & featured dresses & costumes designed by Alex Katz, Marisol Escobar, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, & more than a dozen other artists.

Several poets were enlisted to walk down the runway. The critic Alexandar Alberro provides an account of the models in a recent essay on the event: “Perreault had Anne Waldman, the famous poet, dress in an outfit consisting of two unites of long hair that could be tied as a veil over the face, separated and tied under both arms as sleeves or joined again at the bustline as a hairy mini dress.”[i] The event also featured “a wear-your-own luggage cape in royal blue plastic with multiple snap on-off pouches & a matching plastic bikini designed by Weiner and worn by Bernadette Mayer.”

The organizers published “The Fashion Show Poetry Event Essay” in the mimeo magazine 0-9 edited by Mayer & Vito Acconci. Fashion & poetry, according to the organizers, were linked by a process of collaborative translation: “We communicated to the artists our generalized instructions. They translated back these instructions into sketches, models, & finally actual garments. The feedback (i.e. the garments) was then translated by us into fashion language.”

This “fashion language” materialized in a series of poems that the organizers read aloud during the event. The poems they described as “imitations of fashion copy.” Susan Salgado, for example, designed a wedding dress that completely covered the head of the unseen model with a giant white bowtie (cf. image at top of post). The accompanying poem spoke to the tendency of the fashion industry to peddle in fantasies of nuptial self-fulfillment:

Gigantically ultra-feminine, for
that big moment in your
life when you walk down the
aisle, an Alice-in-
Wonderland bow with a long,
long gossamer train in billow-
ing white tulle.

Coverage of the event included not only the mimeo publication O-9, but also magazines with large circulations such as The Village Voice & Harper’s Bazaar. It was rare then, as it is now, that artists could cross the gap between the marginal & the mainstream, & in the U.S. it almost never happens for poets. The two-page spread in Harper’s Bazaar featured a selection of the poems & sketches–some of which are scanned & shown above & below.

[i] Alexander Alberro discusses The Fashion Show Poetry Event in great detail & includes several photographs in his essay “Media, Sculpture, Myth,” in A Principality of Its Own: 40 Years of Visual Arts at the Americas Society, ed. José Louis Falconi and Gabriela Rangel (New York: Americas Society, 2006).

NB: The notes above come from an essay that I wrote several years ago on Hannah Weiner’s early career as a lingerie designer. I set the essay aside & pretty much forgot about it when my daughter was born . But if all goes as planned, the essay should be published later this year.

Kaplan Harris is guest blogging on Tuesdays in January & February. His work appears in American Literature, Artvoice, Contemporary Literature, the EPC, Jacket, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. He is also editing, with Peter Baker & Rod Smith, The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley for the University of California Press. He lives in Buffalo.

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