RAZZLE DAZZLE: Gogo Graham Revives 1940s Broadway Costumes with Maharam
Maharam on Broadway? Today the New York-based textile-design company is more synonymous with aesthetic and technical innovation. But while they work with a roster of contemporary designers — Konstantin Grcic, Hella Jongerius, and Paul Smith among them —, Maharam also prides itself of a catalogue boasting heritage designs by the likes of Alexander Girard and Gio Ponti. Yet few people are aware of Maharam’s own rich and colorful heritage, which began in 1902 when Russian immigrant Louis Maharam began selling fabric remnants from a pushcart on New York’s Lower East Side. By the 1940s, Maharam had become the leading textile supplier to the theater industry. It was spangles, feathers, lace, fake pearls, artificial flowers, and other trimmings to dress the casts of musicals, plays, ballets, movies, and dance spectaculars, rather than the refined and functional interior textiles that make the firm popular with designers today.
On the eve of Maharam’s 120th birthday, PIN–UP teamed up with stylist and creative director Sharifa Morris to breathe new life into the company’s theatrical legacy. Baptized Resurrection, the project recreates three outfits from Maharam’s 1940s costume catalogues — lookbooks that enticed clients to buy textiles from the company’s former 46th Street store in Manhattan. Together with costume designer Gogo Graham, Morris pored over the vintage albums in Maharam’s New York archive before making her final choice: Pliofilm Bird, an avian fantasy whose feathers were made from a transparent non-flammable rubber popular in the 1940s; White Moth, another winged creation in what was described in the catalogue as “white pineapple cloth on hat wire”; and Petit Pierrot, a polka-dot pantomime concoction in satin. The challenge was to recreate looks originally made from fancy mid-century costume fabrics — velvetex, silkoline, sparkle triplex satin — using Maharam’s current line, conceived for functional interior use. “Gogo’s work has a very structural quality to it, and we wanted to find a way for her to really own these pieces, but also still make the patterns recognizable,” explains Morris. Together, she and Graham spent hours in the company’s material archive selecting just the right fabrics for decidedly un-Maharam-like details such as wings, tail feathers, and pompoms.
To bring the completed costumes alive, Morris and photographer Alex Black teamed up with dancers Cat Krik and Christina “Coco” Smith for a day-long photo shoot at Judson Memorial Church in New York’s East Village. “We defined very loose constructs for each of the characters so that the dancers would have the space to interpret them however they wanted,” explains Morris. “It was like free-spacing: movement that wasn’t directed or policed.” Cat and Christina also chose their own music for the shoot (it was Serpentwithfeet, Missy Elliott, and a string quartet). For Morris, the project turned out to be more than an homage to the storied Broadway history of one of today’s most interesting textile design companies. “Judson Memorial Church is an amazing community space that prioritizes the queer BIPOC community,” she explains. “Capturing Gogo Graham’s beautiful interpretations of the Maharam costumes there, especially in June during Pride month, after being away from people for so long, was revitalizing. A resurrection of our creative energy and the spirit of community.”
Text by Julie Klein
Creative Direction by Sharifa Morris
Photographer by Alex Black
Costume Design by Gogo Graham
Dancers: Cat Krik, Christina “Coco” Smith
Makeup by Ayaka Nihei
BTS & Production Assistance by Kamau Morris
Lighting Technology by Peter Dragos
Production by Nuff Studio
Executive Production by Felix Burrichter for PIN–UP