Feeling Mod In New York

This November, the Museum of the City of New York is hosting Mod New York-Fashion Takes a Trip. The exhibit explores “the full arc of 1960s fashion (in the United States), shedding new light on a period marked by tremendous and daring stylistic diversity.” Our founder, Andrea Aranow, will be included in this exhibit. Her piece, the Lucky Strike sailor’s jacket made from appliqued printed leather and snakeskin employs the ephemeral bubbles of creativity that embody that moment in time.

Andrea remembers the late 1960s, as so very different from this moment a half-century later. 

“Perhaps that’s why it fascinates. The economy was good; for young people it was easy to quit a job and find something else quickly. Everything was quick and there were promises of fresh air, that the anti-establishment had a role and that youth could make itself seen and heard, that experimentation was positive. The flower-power descended widening the cross-cultural appreciation popularized by the Beatles. I can only see this from hindsight.”

Back then, she was very busy expressing herself and growing with new materials and new challenges to meet. She (finally) arrived in New York after completing a cultural history degree. Andrea couldn’t wait to get started concentrating full-time on making her new visions, after years of pocket money sewing with leather and suede in imitative styles while in school.

She settled on St. Marks in the East Village and soon had rented a storefront nearby just as a workshop. But after sticking a garment in the window, people started to be curious about Dakota Transit.

With her mornings free, she wandered and discovered that local jobbers carried snakeskins (for the handbag trade) as well as leather and suede. She started by using these as appliques on the clothes, but responded well to Jimi Hendrix’s challenge to create an all-snakeskin ensemble. She collected many colors, all sorted in a big shadowbox from which she pulled samples for the custom pieces. It was a very vibrant time: the youthquake, & feeling of open eyes, exoticism.

“I loved having that window, the direct contact. I never could tell who would walk through that door.” “Being asked to define ‘funky’”. “Seeing the black limos parking next to the tenements of East 9 St.”

Styles were morphing vey quickly, and freewheelers like Dakota Transit were thrust into an unexpected place by editorials in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar as well as the downtown and music magazines. They would even collaborate with her on items of clothing they wanted for a particular shoot. Not only was this free publicity for Dakota Transit and Andrea, but this put her, at a mere 23 years old, at the forefront of fashion. Soon, she had a second location uptown and anyone fashionable had heard about Dakota Transit. 

“I never thought of myself as a designer. I just wanted to realize these visions. Sometimes we did a piece of pure fantasy, but building around a client’s vision was the best challenge.”

The Lucky Strike jacket in the exhibit was the third or fourth piece designed to the whim of Ursula Flurer, a close friend and client. A master designer of packaging, she styled  herself well  to reflect her humor and irreverence, on target for the moment.

Andrea’s own style in the late 60s, early 70s, was “much more reclusive than my clients,” a relaxed mix of denim and leather with  mechanic’s coveralls for that pregnant silhouette. 

“We thought we had a new vision because of our youth….”

That feeling came through in Andrea’s work. She had “a lot of pent up energy” to do things her own way; a large part of her success at the time.  Ever curious and experimental the flame burned intensely, fueled by the psychedelic euphoria of the moment. And just as suddenly the fervor died.

The thin air and billowing clouds of the high Andes in Peru, encountered on a brief month of vacation travel beckoned, and Andrea was off to start her next career: living among people who lived traditionally, spinning their yarns and creating clothing from scratch. New lessons. New interests and eventually textile collections for museums.

Special thanks to Mimi Loughney for her contributions to this story.

The Exhibition Mod New York-Fashion Takes a Trip is open through April 1, 2018 at the Museum of the City of New York. Wednesday, March 14,  join New York designers Andrea Aranow and Anna Sui for a conversation with fashion historian Hazel Clark about how the ‘60s influenced their work.