Interview with Kristen Stewart for “Our Hearts On Our Sleeves”

Our Hearts On Our Sleeves is now open at the Valentine. The exhibition utilizes the Valentine’s extensive costumes and textiles collection to showcase the intersection of art and fashion. Talking more about the exhibition is Kristen Stewart, The Nathalie L. Klaus Curator of Costume & Textiles who curated the exhibition.

What is your favorite piece/artifact from this exhibition?
My favorite changes daily. Greeting me in the first gallery “Art For Every Body,” the practical simplicity of Edward V. Valentine’s work aprons calls to mind the rough elegance of a sculptor at work. Turning a corner into the vibrant second gallery “Passion and Patronage,” Pamela Reynold’s paper dress always gives me a thrill not only because of its exuberant design but also because of the subtle references in the silhouette to the late and great designer, Alexander McQueen. Felix van Driem’s designs for Rejena Carreras never fail to wow me with their elegance and technically brilliant execution. In the final gallery “The Heart of Richmond” the poignant images created by Claudia Helene Jemmott and Eva Rocha seem to speak together across time about the lasting pain of human trafficking. But these are just a few of the many amazing pieces I had the pleasure of working with and, now, of seeing every day in evolving conversation with one another.

How did the city of Richmond influence the style of clothing/dress? While on the flip side, how did new fashion trends affect Richmond?
Carol Bryson, the long-time branch manager of Montaldo’s in Richmond, once observed that the overt display of ostentatious chic was not considered appropriate in the southern city even into the late 20th century. In part because of the persistence of an old-world social conservatism and in part as a habit developed in response to the devastation of the city during the “great conflagration” of the Civil War, Richmond’s fashionable community has long eschewed extreme fashion in favor of “good taste.” That is not to say that Richmond’s women and men of style were unaware of fashion trends. As the Valentine’s collection demonstrates, many wore more forward trending styles when visiting New York, San Francisco, and Europe, but didn’t introduce new trends into their Richmond wardrobes until after they had become broadly accepted. This tradition of restraint remains a part of Richmond’s style identity, but with the increasing diversity of the city, Richmond’s fashion risk-takers have begun to emerge.

Are there any common threads (excuse the pun) that you made from past fashion to contemporary styles of today?
Definitely. In the first gallery, “Art For Every Body,” for example, visitors can observe the persistence of the influence of a generalized idea of “exoticism” on fashions described as “bohemian” or “artistic.” The mid-19th century paisley-printed House dress owned by Miss Frances Branch Scott and the beautifully patched and embroidered blue jeans designed by Mitzi Welton in 1968 both incorporate prints and patterns inspired by eastern art to communicate an unconventional, bohemian, or artistic taste.

Another example can be seen in the “Iron Maiden” chain mail evening dress in the final gallery made by Danielle Weinstein. The chain mail rings that once protected gallant knights on horseback now influence the hardware-heavy designs of punk-inflected fashions on both the street and the catwalk.

What would you like visitors to take away after viewing the exhibition?
Joy. And a lift in their step. I hope that this exhibition will communicate to visitors the exuberance that I see and feel in Richmond’s fashion and art community. For me, even the personally and socially challenging work of artists like Claudia Helene Jemmott, Eva Rocha, Michael-Birch Pierce, Aaron McIntosh, and Mo Regulinski on view in the final gallery lifts my spirit by demonstrating the deep hope and beauty that persists in the struggle of the human spirit to understand, express, and redeem itself.

Last question, are top hats finally coming back in style or do I have to wait on that?
No need to wait! A top hat is the perfect accessory for a man with his heart on his sleeve!