On the morning of March 4, when designer Stella McCartney showed her Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection at Paris Fashion Week, several looks that walked the runway were draped with long, thick cords of fabric—“wrapped and twisted adornments,” according to the program notes. They were made by artist Sheila Hicks, and several of them looked like they could have been plucked directly from Evolving Tapestry, a 1989 work by Hicks that is now on view at Mia as part of the exhibition “Without Boundaries: Fiber Sculptures and Paintings by Women Artists.”
When you stand in front of a work by Hicks, you may have the urge to reach out and touch it. She is known for painting with fiber—for pushing fiber to the limits of scale, color, and structure. She plays with texture in a way that draws you in, not unlike an Impressionist painting.
The American-born expat in Paris developed her fiber craft while visiting South America on a Fulbright scholarship, and while living and working in Mexico in the late 1950s. Her work is the product of careful observation of the world around her and a lifelong dedication to the study and reinterpretation of pre-Columbian textiles. During her years in Mexico, for example, she observed weavers preparing materials to make traditional shawls—a method that helped inspire Evolving Tapestry. She experiments with bold color combinations in the threads that wrap the oversized bundles of yarn, resulting in a new kind of tapestry with three-dimensional color patterns of surprising scale.
Throughout her long career, Hicks has often used the wrapping technique seen in Evolving Tapestry, and she continues to use it to this day—as she evidently did for the pieces used by Stella McCartney.
McCartney stands out in the fashion world for addressing the industry’s devastating environmental consequences—it’s one of the world’s top waste-producing industries. For her Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection, every garment was made from sustainably sourced viscose, vegetarian leather, faux fur, recycled t-shirts, or materials from previous collections. Each model donned written calls-to-action tattooed discreetly on their faces, necks, and arms.
It’s no surprise, then, to see McCartney make such a careful and deliberate decision to collaborate with Hicks, who uses natural materials to produce her work and whose technique is credited to her thoughtful observation of the world.
It is also fitting to see the work of a veteran female artist adorning a collection by Stella McCartney—a woman who has devoted her entire career to designing clothes that empower women—at the start of International Women’s Month. The show served as a reminder of the magic that occurs when women band together. The collection was described by Vogue as having both “cheeky” and “stunner” qualities, a “terrific” collection with a cause. It conveyed an important call to action while indulging its consumers in a fantasy of rare pleasure. To put Hicks’ fiber sculptures on a fashion show runway is to transform a work of art typically guarded by a barrier in a museum into something wearable—something we can touch and feel and own for ourselves.
Top image: On the left, detail of Sheila Hicks’ Evolving Tapestry; on the right, a model in Stella McCartney’s recent show at Paris Fashion Week, wearing adornments by Sheila Hicks.