Look J - Alia Saurini
Alia Saurini, circus artist and designer, created this trapeze costume for an act commemorating fellow artist, Sarah Guillot-Guyard, who died in a tragic performance accident. The act for which the costume was created featured live music by fellow circus artists and was performed during a charity event called Circus Couture. “It was an honor to perform in her memory, and to acknowledge the risks that we take every time we step on stage, along with the strength and courage that drives us forward” says Alia (Saurini, 2018). This costume is emblematic of the spirit that drives circus performers, celebrating life through art and performance onstage.
Trapeze Video with Alia Saurini, Performer in Circus Couture’s “Possessions,” Las Vegas, Nevada, 2013. Directed by Michael Tushaus and Michael Su. Video courtesy of : Lisa Hearting and Circus Couture
Look K - Suuqayaqawilth
This dance shawl conveys the power, prestige, talent, and craftsmanship of Suuwayaqawilth (Colleen Watts, née Cootes, 1942 – 2013), who was the Hakum (Queen) of the Hupacasath First Nation. Her nation’s haahuulthii (traditional territory) is now called the Alberni Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Suuwayaqawilth originally hailed from the Ucluelet First Nation, an indigenous whaling community on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Suuwayaqawilth’s shawl is representative of her Ucluelet roots: the thunderbird is the paramount whaler who uses bolts of lightning as harpoons. In addition, the shawl represents her name, Suuwayaqawilth, which she received from Jessie Mack at a potlatch ceremony in September 1973. While the direct translation of the name is, “she commands the attention of all those around her,” it also refers to a thunderbird. The thunderbird crest design on the shawl depicts her name and ancestry, while the exquisite applique and button shell embellishments convey her prestige and social status as Hakum. The thunderbird design was created by her nephew Haa’yuups, but was sewn and constructed by Suuwayaqawilth.
Haa’yuups recalled, “She was a humble and dignified woman, and I wanted the design to dignify and reflect who she was.” Suuwayaqawilth was considered one of the best seamstresses and dancers of her generation--a generation that was subjected to residential schooling and aggressive assimilationist policies in Canada. While a student in the Alberni Indian Residential School, Suuwayaqawilth played for the undefeated “Girls of AIRS” women’s basketball team, which won the BC Provincial Tournament in 1953, 1954, and 1955. In addition to basketball, she was a talented pitcher and bowler. A powerful women on the court, she also commanded attention as a renowned dancer. She danced with this shawl at many potlatch ceremonies and public events. She was a loving grandmother, mother, aunty and friend whose dancing and sewing brought beauty, strength, and dignity to all who encountered her.
Look l - Julie Mcinnes
Julie McInnes is a musician and circus artist who has performed in such shows as Cirque du Soleil’s O, KÀ, and Amaluna, in addition to acting as musical director, composer, and performer for Circus Oz. McInnes’s music has inspired costume designers such as Dominique Lemieux, who created the Black Widow feathered headpiece. “The whole costume and character was custom made for me, after they saw me playing my cello on a wheel… originally Franco Dragone wanted me to wear the hobo jacket I wore as I demonstrated my cello-on-wheel dancing/playing, but Dominique Lemieux wouldn’t hear of it, and brought out one of her best ‘saved-up for a special occasion’ roll of white fabric, dyed it black, and created this headpiece” says McInnes (McInnes, 2018).
Her career as a musician and artist has brought joy and inspiration to audiences and designers alike, creating new characters and trailblazing the way for other female musicians who follow in her stead.
Look M - Janine De Lorenzo
Relocating from her native Australia, musician Janine De Lorenzo enjoyed a storied career with Cirque du Soleil, where among other positions, she was a pianist at KÀ and was hired as Bandleader for the primarily-female production of Amaluna, a circus reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Prior to her joining the production full time, Janine broke both of her wrists and spent considerable time and effort healing and recovering, where she drew strength from the Memento Necklace made for her by a fellow artist at KÀ, Gail Gilbert. “For me it represents the empowerment I felt while with that show. It hung on my rear vision mirror as I drove across the US to Montreal to begin working on Amaluna, pushing me forward to a new chapter. Then I broke both wrists, and it came with me to Australia as I recovered, always reminding me of the strength I once had” says Janine (De Lorenzo, 2018). The necklace is comprised of small pieces from costumes, cello bow hair, and cork, which was used in a scene to represent sand on a beach. “Every time I look at it, I smile and feel strong!” (De Lorenzo, 2018).
Look N - Sylvia Goldstaub
In 1977, Mark Goldstaub came out as a gay man to his mother, Sylvia Goldstaub (1920 - 2017), and father, Bernie. While initially unaccepting of her son’s identity, Sylvia began reading and researching about homosexuality and, after some time, was able to embrace this aspect of her son. In 1988, Mark passed away from an AIDS related illness, and from that point onward his mother became an advocate for the gay and lesbian community, especially AIDS awareness.
Sylvia wrote a book, Unconditional Love: Mom! Dad! Love Me! Please! (pictured above) and was an active participant in marches and worked to form several support groups for people living with AIDS and their families. The ensemble on display was decorated by Sylvia herself, and worn while she was on a publicity tour for her book. The bright red ribbon is a global symbol of AIDS awareness. Covering her outfit with ribbons made it a frontline fashion: it clearly marked her as an ally, advocate, and supporter of HIV-positive individuals and people living with AIDS, as well as their friends and families, and the larger LGBTQ+ community.
Look O - Dorothy Schefer Faux '69
As the Women’s Image Director of Vogue in the 1980s, Dorothy Schefer Faux’s ‘69 job was to help working women build a wardrobe for the workplace. Prior to the 1970s and 1980s, women were represented as either homemakers or rebels in the pages of fashion magazines. When women began to enter the workforce in increasing numbers in the early 1970s, they had no choice but to emulate men by adopting black skirt suits, lapels, white shirts, and black bows as ties. Faux’s personal style and progressive thinking offered Vogue’s readership the ability to fashion themselves for work without sacrificing their feminine shape and silhouette. After Grace Mirabella’s departure from Vogue in 1988, Faux left the magazine to help launch Mirabella, a new kind of style magazine for the “post-modern” woman (Faux, 2018).
As an Executive Editor for Mirabella, Faux continued to offer working women ideas about how to build a smart and functional wardrobe. Reflecting on her career, Dorothy wrote: “I decided the best way to empower women’s lives was to change what they read—and wore” (Faux, 2018). This suit, designed by Yves Saint Laurent, was worn by Faux during her time at both Vogue and Mirabella. It is a great example of “power dressing,” a fashion that redefined the men’s suit for women in the late 1980s. Yves Saint Laurent was instrumental in developing this style: his use of shoulder pads, exaggerated lapels, oversized buttons, and big pockets changed the way women looked in the workplace. Laurent gave them a shape, style, and silhouette of power, and Faux conveyed these sensibilities on the pages of Vogue and Mirabella, in a way that truly spoke to working women.
Look P - Joy Powers
Joy Powers wore these red clown shoes during her first year touring the country with Zing Zang Zoom, a production of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. “These shoes carried this little female clown (one of two, out of 12 clowns - always a male dominated field) across miles and miles of performance, all over the country, through elephant poop, joy and pain” Joy remembered while laughing (Powers, 2018). From her beginnings as a clown with Vermont’s Circus Smirkus to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the holes worn through the soles of her shoes tell the story themselves: the hard work of performance, adventure, and the empowerment of doing what she loved while bringing joy to audiences across America. “I can never throw them away because of all the learning they represent to me” (Powers, 2018).
Look Q - Rachel Powell '17
Designed by Rachel Powell ’17, The White Dress – 030113 is one of the most powerful pieces in her 2017 ROOTS collection, which debuted at the Cornell Fashion Collective’s 33rd Annual Runway Show. Powell drew inspiration from the fit-and-flare housewife silhouette of the 1950s, while a rendering of Ruby Bridges, inspired by the 1964 Norman Rockwell painting, is displayed on the backside. Powell explained, “The numbers on the front of the dress, 030113, which are arranged to look like a prison number, reference the date I was raped in high school” (Jopwell, 2017). Just months before the #metoo movement became a widespread social phenomenon, Powell used fashion design as a vehicle to make rape culture visible and call attention to ongoing violence against women.
“Through ROOTS,” Powell explained, “I wanted to explore the intersectionality of Black women in America and the unique double discrimination that they experience based on both race and gender” (Jopwell, 2017). Powell used her design to call attention to the pervasive culture of rape, sexual assault, and discrimination in the United States, and the intersectional experiences of violence that Black women face in America today.
Roots Collection Runway Show, collection designed by Rachel Powell, 2017, Ithaca, NY, USA
Look R - Biannica Dominguez/Black Widow
"I've been on stages almost my whole life," says Biannica Dominguez, who also goes by her stage name, Black Widow. Biannica is a singer-songwriter and acoustic guitar player who has a "love of all types of music." These platform boots have uplifter her on the stage, a place where she is most comfortable, secure, and empowered. While she has been performing music for over 35 years, the path to finding this place of empowerment was not always easy. Biannica remembered of her childhood, "The sex God gave me isn't the sex [my parents] gave me at birth." On the stage, Biannica uses fashion, alongside performance, to convey who she is and to empower others to feel confident enough to do the same.
Look S - Deborah Sundahl/Fanny Fatale
The stage can be a platform for women to embrace sexuality and to find empowerment. With the audience’s captivated attention, a performer can send a powerful message. Deborah Sundahl, also known as Fanny Fatale, performed lesbian striptease in San Francisco in the 1980s and used the stage to increase the visibility of queer women’s sexuality. The costumes on display here were worn for BurLEZk at the Mitchell Bros O’Farrell Theater, a striptease club near San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood (“Susie Bright Papers,” n.d.). “For some, who I am and the work I do pose a deep conflict” Sundahl wrote (Sundahl, 1983). Sundhal used burlesque striptease to advocate for sex positivity.
Suburban Dykes (edited), 2 minutes, 26 seconds. Directed by Deborah Sundahl, 1990.
Clips - In which greta meets jupiter IV... (edited) 2 minutes, 40 seconds. Directed by Deborah Sundahl and Nan Kinney, 1988.
In Which Fanny Liquidates Kenni’s Stocks (Edited) 1 minute, 40 seconds. Directed by Deborah Sundahl and Nan Kinney, 1988.
Sundahl has worked with the Harriet Tubman Shelter for Battered Women and with Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) and was the co-editor of its newsletter in 1980. The items from this collection were donated by Susie Bright who was the editor of the first women’s erotica magazine, "On Our Backs", which launched in 1984. Sundahl helped to publish the magazine from 1984-1994 (Sundahl, n.d. -b).
Today, Sundahl continues to advocate for and embrace women’s sexuality: she has recently taken to another stage by writing the first-ever book on female ejaculation, Female Ejaculation and the G-spot (2003, revised 2014). She also made the very first video on the topic, How to Female Ejaculate (1993), at a time when few people had heard about this subject (Sundahl, n.d.-a). Since 1983, Sundahl has worked internationally as sex educator, specializing in teaching women and couples about the G-spot and female ejaculation. Sundahl is recognized as a leading international expert and pioneer in female sexuality.