“Once upon a midnight dreary,” opens Poe’s classic “The Raven,” sending waves of mystery and darkness to all who chance upon these pulsating and provocative lines. As I ponder (not weak nor weary) the immutable connection between the arts, it is ever intriguing to see how the written word can inspire the line, shape and form of designers, artists and architects.
Inspiration from the world of visual art is not new to Joseph Abboud, who clearly sees the connecting line between the emotional allure of fine art and high fashion. To kick off New York Fashion Week, and in celebration off his 30 years as an American menswear icon, Abboud launched his Fall/Winter 2017 line with a theatrical runway production that channeled American Gothic literature, drawing inspiration from the pens and pages of literary luminaries such as Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde.
“Fashion Week was a big moment for menswear,” Abboud said in a discussion I had with him. Believing strongly that menswear should be rooted in something, he added, “I love the richness and foundation of literature. ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray,’ with its masculine ideal, and Poe’s ‘The Raven’ help to inspire shapes and color. And, of course, it’s Americana.”
The setting was perfect, in New York, at a decommissioned Gothic church in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, whose high-reaching arches and vaulted ceilings complemented and framed the construction and architecture found in Abboud’s multi-layered textural collection. The imposing Gothic environment was an appropriate canvas for the designer’s palette, anchored in black, and then furthered with dark grays, aubergine purple, madder green and a stained-glass blue.
The church architecture, decorative with a contrasting austere majesty, emphasized the exaggerated lapels, theatrical silhouettes and windswept coats flowing through the collection. The tactile nature of the church’s Gothic walls supported Abboud’s signature layered textures, with jacquards, sumptuous brocades, knit herringbones, quilted leather and water-stained velvet. Abboud wanted to add the unexpected: a playful look at good and evil. He found a symbiotic coupling in the goodness of the church and the darkness of the literature. The distinctive architecture of the Gothic structure complemented the designer’s rich, deep tones and colors, washed velvets and ever-present layering. The show opened with black and closed in an angelic ivory; like great literature, subtlety and irony made an everlasting impression.
A streaming line of models glided in quickstep around the church’s wooden pews, under its high Gothic arches, to the pounding rhythms of a live string ensemble. The showing of the designer’s line was more than just a show, it was an experience. Abboud is an impresario, understanding that the runway, much like the in-store environment, must be theatrical and experiential.
And there is a message in this, perhaps an awakening: “Suddenly there came a tapping, as if someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” No, not “some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” but rather an awakening to a new structure in the fashion and retail world. While the retail industry is changing faster now than ever before, mirroring the changes in our culture and society, store design must also continue to evolve. And as we move forward in a whirlwind of technology, as well we should, a contemporized nod to the classics will stand as a strong foundation for what is new and exciting. With this in mind, Abboud was able to translate the dark, though mellifluous, lines of Edgar Allen Poe, and images of Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” into an exciting and contemporary representation of the evolution of his brand.
Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.