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Alexis Carreño Has a Passion for Fashion

PhD student curates prominent exhibit on “Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art”

Alexis Carreño grew up in Chile. While many kids his age spent their time kicking around soccer balls Alexis got his kicks in a decidedly different way — by sketching dresses.

Alexis CarrenoAlexis’s fascination with the world of design at an early age eventually led him to enroll in the Universidad de Chile, where he earned an MFA studying painting, contemporary art and gender studies.

Following that he won a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue his PhD in art history at Stony Brook in 2009. He chose Stony Brook because of its interdisciplinary approach to art and its proximity to New York City.

It was a trip to New York City, specifically to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2011 exhibit “Savage Beauty,” featuring the haute couture clothing of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, that forever changed his perception of fashion. “It never occurred to me that I could seriously study fashion until then,” he said.

While serving an internship at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), Alexis was chosen to guest curate an exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City’s Lincoln Square, which featured 13 renowned fashion designers. The designers created original works inspired by artwork in the museum’s collection. The show, “Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art,” opened on January 21 and will run until April 23. Alexis’s name appeared in New York Magazine and Time Out.

Sometimes it helps to be in the right place at the right time.  “I was doing research for the [F.I.T.] exhibition, ‘A Queer History of Fashion,’ organized by Dr. Valerie Steele,” he said. Steele, the director of the museum at F.I.T. who has written extensively about fashion and created the field of fashion studies, recommended Alexis as the guest curator for the “Folk Couture” exhibit.

Stacy C. Hollander, chief curator and deputy director for curatorial affairs at The American Folk Art Museum, said that Alexis was chosen to guest curate because of a combination of factors.

“Alexis came highly recommended to us as a Fulbright Scholar, an art historian and a doctoral student in fashion history. We were confident he had the intellectual and personal capabilities to shape the conceptual framework of the exhibition and facilitate successful interactions with the fashion designers and the museum staff. We feel most gratified that this experience has steered him toward a career as a curator.”

Alexis CarrenoAlexis and Hollander selected nearly 100 objects from the museum’s collection based on their potential to “instigate contemporary fashions.” These items included textiles, wood sculptures, paintings, a photograph and even a book of tattoo patterns. One artist ripped apart a broom and re-purposed the bristles as quills to attach to the shoulder of a black chiffon mini-dress.

The designers who were chosen for the exhibit had either referenced art in past collections or created “experimental and edgy” clothing.

 “Working as guest curator for the show feels like a big accomplishment,” said Alexis. “I’m absolutely sure that what I learned from this experience will lead to new and exciting projects.”

He credits Stony Brook professors Adrienne Munich and Michele Bogart for encouraging him to pursue his love for fashion while an art student.

Alexis will use his guest curatorship to enhance his dissertation, which will address the art of making a dress and analyze the ensembles created for “Folk Couture” as works of art.

“Working with these designers was fantastic!” he said. “Fashion designers are fascinating people. They are constantly thinking about proportions, textures, fabrics and beauty. They look at the world in a unique way.”

“I’d love to work as a fashion curator and teach fashion history,” he said. “It would be thrilling to create a fashion studies department at Stony Brook.”

—By Glenn Jochum; photos by Richard Koek/AFAM



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