The hippie era, in a modern light | ‘Counter Couture’ now open at the Bellevue Arts Museum

Embroidered shirts, patchwork pants, beaded dresses galore fill the exhibit space for ‘Counter Couture’, a new exhibit at the Bellevue Arts Museum that is meant to capture the energy and character of the 1960s and 1970s through fashion.

A model wears a brightly colored crocheted dress made by Birgitta Bjerke. Making clothes by hand and depurposing items was an integral part of fashion in the era

Embroidered shirts, patchwork pants, beaded dresses galore fill the exhibit space for ‘Counter Couture’, a new exhibit at the Bellevue Arts Museum that is meant to capture the energy and character of the 1960s and 1970s through fashion.

For curator Michael Cepress, the exhibit has been about 15 years in the making. While in high school, the artist and designer discovered the book, ‘Native Funk and Flash’, from which much of the exhibit draws inspiration.

“That book completely changed me,” he said. “It made me realize that clothing isn’t just a simple thing, but an expression of so much more, and that we can have lots of creative fun with clothing.”

Over time, Cepress tracked down the designers featured in the book and exhibit, in some cases helping them dig through storage bins for the clothing items now on display at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

The pieces are often one of a kind, wildly colored, intricate and bold. The clothing articles embody a variety of cultural influences, from Middle Eastern to Native American to Japanese.

Although one museum-goer could be overheard comparing a handmade patchwork dress to something she had seen in Free People, the pieces in ‘Counter Couture’ stand in stark contrast to the hippie-inspired aesthetic that dominates many retail stores, said Cepress.

“In a big way, that bohemian manifestation is really bonded in retail nowadays. But, it’s all mass produced, and it doesn’t have the soulfullness that these pieces from the 60s have,” he said.

For the hippie generation, rejection of previously set standards bore a huge role in the fashion of the time. The generation also rejected the materialism and consumerism of the American Dream.

“What’s most relative to that culture today is that impulse of taking what you’re interested in, taking wherever you’re at sexually, spiritually, emotionally and finding a way to bring that into your wardrobe and show that in how you dress,” said Cepress.

In that way, ‘Counter-Couture’ is interesting to view through the modern lens, in which political correctness and fast fashion have changed the way Americans approach clothing. There is little daring, save perhaps sexually, about the clothing that fills Americans’ closets nowadays before getting thrown out next season. Hippie fashion embodied a movement, Cepress said.

‘Counter Couture’ is showing at the Bellevue Arts Museum through Jan. 10, 2016.


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