Transcript – Episode 64

Announcer: This podcast is a project of the Mass Cultural Council. We believe in the power of culture, the arts, humanities, and sciences to enrich communities, advance equity, and foster creativity.

Jay Calderin: We learn not to make it “Other”, because when you do it as “other” it almost feels like you’re doing a favor, like, you’re doing something special and you’re going out of your way or something like that and we didn’t want it to feel like that. We wanted it to feel like, “No, no. They are giving us these great design challenges.”

Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Jay Calderin. He is founder and executive director of Boston Fashion Week. And welcome to our program.

Jay Calderin: Thank you.

Anita Walker: Now, we do not fund Boston Fashion Week. I want to say that disclaimer right off the bat since so many of our guests we do have a grant-making relationship with. But, first of all, talk about how you got started with Boston Fashion Week.

Jay Calderin: Well, it was back in 1995 and I had been covering New York shows for a while as a photographer and an editor and I had moved here a few years back and realized that we could do something similar like the way you hear about the shows in New York City. And when I moved here I didn’t realize there was such an incredible population of fashion people, fashion professionals. Everything from models, fashion designers, hair and make-up, you know, the whole scene. But it didn’t have a central channel, but, you know, for all this talent. Things would pop up here and there and that would be nice and novel, but there wasn’t sort of this presence of an industry or a community. And I thought that Fashion Week would kind of be that for a lot of people; it would be neutral territory, where young designers, established professionals, retailers, everyone can play, and really shine a light on the local talent.

Anita Walker: How did you uncover this invisible resource here?

Jay Calderin: Well, it was kind of funny, because I moved here in ’89 and it was actually because I had decided to move out of fashion. You know, I was starting over here in Boston and I was starting from scratch and then just by chance I started to meet all these great local fashion professionals and it just kind of brought me right back in, because I was very excited about the challenge here and it was for the most part felt very undiscovered by most people. So, I wanted to kind of put it front and center.

Anita Walker: I guess it isn’t surprising, because there is such a creative undercurrent, whether it’s music, visual arts, and so forth. We have art schools and universities here. So, why wouldn’t there be fashion?

Jay Calderin: And most people don’t realize that there’s a higher concentration of fashion design programs in the area than in almost anywhere else in the country. So, there’s a lot of schools producing all this great talent and then usually the idea was that they kind of moved on elsewhere. And we thought it was important to keep them here.

Anita Walker: So, how long have you been doing Fashion Week now?

Jay Calderin: We started– our first Fashion Week was in ’95.

Anita Walker: And it certainly has become a much-known event. Do you think it has given the designers and the industry more of a sense of belonging in Massachusetts?

Jay Calderin: I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that it’s become a tradition rather than something I had to pitch. You know, in the beginning we had to really sell it and get people excited about it and want to participate. And now, right at the end of Fashion Week we start getting inquiries about the following year. So, yeah, now I think people just want it and feel like it’s theirs to– it’s their platform to use for whatever they want to do.

Anita Walker: So, we love fashion here at the Mass Cultural Council, at least, speaking for myself. But one of the things that we were really excited to learn this year is that you became involved in an Accessibility Project and the Mass Cultural Council has really been leaning in on issues around accessibility through our UP Program, which is all about universal participation and universal design principles. So, talk to me about how you became involved in the Accessibility Project?

Jay Calderin: Well, I was approached my Malia Lazu, who told me about the project and she invited me to be one of the designers, as part of the fashion project. And I– for me, it was really exciting, because Fashion Week for me was– has always been about accessibility, but of another kind. You know, giving designers access, giving the public access, and also as an instructor at the School of Fashion Design I try to make sure our students are thinking about all the different markets they have. So, it became this personal challenge for me, almost like, because I was the designer in the designer role and I was going to be matched up with someone who would be going down the runway in one of my creations, but it had to– in this particular instance, it was Cheri Blauwet, who is in a wheelchair and it just became this incredible learning experience for me. And I was able to include two of my students to go through the process with me. Because, like I said, I wanted them to be able to take away this new way of thinking about designing for the body that’s in a different position. You know, it was funny how when we were going through the process, until we met with Cheri, we could not get away from the fact that we were designing for someone who was going to, at one point, be standing up. Like, it was– we were so trained on that, that we had to keep pulling ourselves back and re-thinking everything, all the decisions we were making.

Anita Walker: So, what are some of the other things you discovered you didn’t know in designing in this realm?

Jay Calderin: Well, I mean, part of it was, again, the positioning and thinking about comfort. I had– she wanted a gown. So, I wanted to give her the sense that she could– when she was talking to someone I wanted her to be able to open up the dress and it feel like she was just there with this pretty gown. But then she had to move. You know, she needed to be mobile. So, we had to consider how that dress would kind of fold onto itself and then all of a sudden be streamlined so that she could just take off whenever she wanted to. So, and she was amazing on the runway. She really– I was amazed at how that whole outfit transformed– she twirled around. I mean, it was brilliant to see her have fun with it.

Anita Walker: Can you describe some of the other gowns or articles of fashion that were designed for different individuals in this project?

Jay Calderin: Well, a lot of it was built around being able to do things yourself. So, things that would breakaway, things that had closures in a different place. I remember, there were these great kids who would have the ability to kind of open up the trouser from the inseam so that they can just pull them off. Then there were, again, things having to do with mobility so that– I mean, one of my big challenges with Cheri’s dress was the back, because I wanted it to flow, but then I had to consider the wheels and I didn’t want accidents jamming up the wheels. So, but everybody kind of took a different slant. There were also issues around emotional issues about being comfortable in different environments and dealing with people and having clothes provide a sense of comfort. Yeah, there was– everybody took it in a slightly different direction.

Anita Walker: You know, one of the things that we always think about when we think about universal design principles is that when you make something easier for one person, you actually make it easier for everybody. So–

Jay Calderin: Definitely.

Anita Walker: –who hasn’t used the curb cuts? Who doesn’t push the automatic door opener when your hands are full. Did you discover some techniques that– for one thing, I can’t reach the zipper in the back. Why do they always put them where I can’t reach them? Did you discover things that could make it easier for everybody to get in and out of their clothes?

Jay Calderin: Oh, definitely. The one major thing that we– that involved that skirt that I mentioned that kind of opened up and closed was a magnetic closure. You know, she didn’t have to fuss with anything. When she laid both sides in her lap it automatically– the magnet automatically synced up. So, something like that where it was kind of effortless, you know, we didn’t want to make it, “Oh, she has to untie things or snap things, and take things apart.” That was being streamlined like that was a big part of what we went through. So.

Anita Walker: We also think about the fact that a lot of people who may find things challenging certainly wouldn’t consider themselves disabled. They wouldn’t raise their hand and say, “That’s me.” But as people get older, or for a variety of reasons, even buttons could be–

<overlapping conversation>

Jay Calderin: Oh, definitely. Arthritis and–

Anita Walker: –or just people with clunky hands. I cannot do the iPhones with the thumbs. I have never been able to figure out how to do that, but some other techniques you mentioned– the magnet you mentioned, some of the other ideas you came up with.

Jay Calderin: Well, one of the things also with the gown was making the gown in two pieces. So, the bodice went on first and she could do that herself and then the skirt went over it and it just wrapped around and, again, took– one of the things that was kind of interesting is I originally had thought of the skirt as going over the whole wheelchair and that just was not practical. So, we ended up splitting the skirt so that it was actually the front and the back were not connected. So, the back gave her that little sort of twirl at the back, you know, and it didn’t interfere with anything and then she had the front to control. So, that was another factor kind of breaking that. And that’s all actually, when you look at fashion history a lot of gowns, old gowns, you know, 1800s, 1900s, were made like that, were made so that you can have them cleaned and have separate pieces. So, that was, again, something old, making it new again and giving it a different function.

Anita Walker: One of the things I love about the story is we often talk about how– you know, when we’re talking about accessibility and, for example, with buildings, you know, we always think of those ugly ramps. But they don’t have to be ugly ramps. They can be beautiful entrances and same as with clothing. Just because something is easier or is adapted to make it easy for somebody who maybe in a wheelchair or whatever it still can be beautiful.

Jay Calderin: Oh, definitely.

Anita Walker: Some of the other– you talked about some of your students working with you, talk about their reactions.

Jay Calderin: That was a real treat for me. I mean, a, I love being in that sort of teaching environment and working with young people, but they really brought– I saw them experimenting. I saw them testing out ideas and coming to– you know, we made it very collaborative and they brought their ideas to how to solve certain issues. You know, because they’re not really problems. It’s just thinking differently. It’s like, you know, thinking about the challenge of dressing any body and figuring out different ways of looking at it. So, they took it places that made it very interesting for me and they experimented a lot. We got ideas for other things, too. You know, happy accidents where we would experiment with something and go that would make a beautiful– that would be a beautiful way to tie that garment or things like that. So.

Anita Walker: Do you think that this could almost burgeon into a new field of fashion design?

Jay Calderin: Well, the one thing that I learned throughout this process is that we learned not to make it “other”.

Anita Walker: Yeah.

Jay Calderin: You know, not necessarily– although, of course, there are a lot of people who specialize in different parts of apparel, one of the things that was important for us was to integrate it. Like, to just make it part of the thinking and not make it, “Oh, I’m doing–” because when you do it as “other” it almost feels like you’re doing a favor. Like, you’re doing something special and you’re going out of your way or something like that. And we didn’t want it to feel like that. We wanted it to feel like, “No, no. They are giving us these great design challenges.” They’re saying, “I need to do this this way. I have to deal with this,” and we had to as designers solve those challenges.

Anita Walker: And everybody loves great design. Everybody deserves great design.

Jay Calderin: Definitely.

Anita Walker: Well, I want to thank you for joining us. Jay Calderin, founder and executive director of Boston Fashion Week, another one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.