A Fashion Of Our Own

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – America (Going West, Clothing, Trades, The Fifty States), Countries Around The World (Ukraine, Mexico) [Traditional Dress]

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Nudie Cohn, Manuel Cuevas, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Alex MacAskill, Dave Wheeler

Pattern, Commercial Art (Fashion Design), Fiber Art (embroidery, applique)

A recent trip to Nashville, TN has been inspiring my blog topics lately. I’ve already posted about it three times. I talked about the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior Exhibit here and here. I also talked about The Hatch Show Prints here. I promise you this will be my last post about that trip.

My husband and I were on our way to the samurai exhibit when a very interesting storefront caught our eye. The windows were filled with fancy western clothing and accessaries. We decided to check it out. Upon entering, we discovered that this was the storefront and workshop of  Manuel Cuevas, country western clothes designer to the stars. I recalled from last year’s trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame that Nudie Cohn was the first country western clothes designer to the stars in the 1950s and that Manual apprenticed under him. Both men were immigrants. Nudie was from the Ukraine and Manuel is from Mexico. Both their native countries have a rich background in patterned embellished traditional clothing as can be seen here and here. These designer’s inspiration is clear, but what they created was new and unique. We are a nation of immigrants and, therefore, have no traditional national costume. The closest thing we have to American traditional clothing is the plain functional cowboy outfit which has evolved into what we call country western wear today. Nudie and Manuel elevated these outfits with embroidery, applique and rhinestones. Nudie and Manuel’s customers were TV cowboys (Gene Autry and Roy Rogers), country music stars (Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton) and even Rock n roll stars (Elvis and The Beatles). The list goes on and on, as can be seen on the page of Manuel’s client photos found here.

They even influenced the fine art world. Nudie and Manuel designed outfits for famous artists, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Contemporary printmaker, Alex MacAskill, was influenced by Nudie and Manuel’s outfits and made a large country western suit print. This work was recently exhibited at the Hatch Show Print’s Haley Gallery. You can see a photo of the print and a video of Alex talking about it here.

So, you’re thinking how can I use this in my curriculum?  Let’s begin with social studies ideas. In a study of cultures around the world, students could look at traditional clothing from the Ukraine, Mexico and other countries. They could locate these countries on a map. Next, broach the subject of our country not having traditional garments. Introduce country western ware. What do they think of this as our traditional costumes? If they could design a national costume, what would it include and why? Would it be patriotic like Uncle Sam wears or Kellyanne Conway wore to Trump’s inauguration? Or might it be sports related?

In a career unit, students could study the work of Nudie and Manuel. You could also introduce Dave Wheeler, a boot maker,  who creates one of a kind cowboy boots. The students could make some designs of their own. I love how Mini Matisse blogger, Mrs. Hahn, provides choices in her art career fashion design unit. The students end up exploring even more careers (Fashion Show Organizer, Models, Fashion photographer). You can find that post  here. I talked about fashion design here. Find a boot designing lesson here.

Tailoring and boot making are also trades which are quickly disappearing in our modern age. Thankfully, some artisans are carrying on the tradition. Manuel is doing his part to perpetuate his craft by teaching apprentices from fashion design programs. Texas artist, Kathie Sever, creates embroidered country western wear a piece at a time. See some examples of her work here. Hatch Show Prints is carrying on the printmaking trade. Please help to keep these processes alive by including them in a colonial America  or industrial revolution unit in your classroom.

Manuel also did a ten year project where he created a jacket to represent each of the fifty states, to honor his adopted homeland. He has them on display in the storefront  portion of his workshop. They are amazing. Being Maryland natives, we were amazed at how many images Manuel manages to place on our state’s jacket. So many!!!!! Check out some of the state jackets here. Wouldn’t it be a great alternative, to design a state jacket, in lieu of a written state report? Or students could design a jacket and then write a short explanation about the images the student included and why.

Students won’t soon forget any of the projects mentioned above (I daresay including your classroom content.). So, why not give one a try? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Simply click on the title of this post and scroll down to the comment section.

If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

I hope to see you again real soon!


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