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Tracking Down the Lost Fashions from the Summer of Love

The de Young spotlights the psychedelic summer when the world dressed like San Francisco.

SLIDESHOW

From left: Yvoynne Porcella dress, ca. 1970; Leslie Rowan velvet top,
ca. 1970, and Jackie Sarti customized “landlubber” jeans, ca. 1970; Birgitta Bjerke crocheted dress, ca. 1967–68; velvet Afghani dress, 1960; Luna Moth Robbins skirt made of Levi’s, ca. 1970; Candace Kling minidress, ca. 1968; Jeanne Rose “Persian Nights” dress, ca. 1966.

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Birgitta Bjerke crocheted wool wedding dress, ca. 1972.

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1920s shawl and dress, altered ca. 1970.

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Mickey McGowan “Gambling” boot, made with table felt, ca. 1975; “Ocean Tantra” boot, made with appliquéd silk, brass buttons, and wood beads, ca. 1975; “Mandala” boot, made with Chinese silk, ca. 1975.

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Mickey McGowan “Cub Scout” boots, made from a uniform and patches, ca. 1975.

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Rainbow Cobblers “Sequoia” boots, ca. 1970.

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The curators behind the de Young’s current pop-cultural extravaganza, The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll, didn’t have to look far to find a stockpile of tripped-out rock posters from the ’60s and ’70s: The museum’s collection includes more than 600 examples of the psychedelic stuff. But when it came to sourcing iconic fashions, textile curator Jill D’Alessandro admits, she had to go digging. “Whereas [the era’s designers’] influence on fashion still exists today, their individual names and contributions have been forgotten,” D’Alessandro says. She set out to correct that.

When designer Jeanne Rose was approached by D’Alessandro to contribute to the show, the longtime Haight resident and stylist for bands like Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company was obliged to shove aside a table laden with essential oils and books. Behind them was a closet filled with vintage ’60s treasures: a denim wedding coat studded with hidden pockets (for things you “don’t want other people to find”), an architectural suit made of blue velvet upholstery fabric, an elaborate silk chiffon skirt reworked into a gauzy crop top.

The exhibit’s other featured designers likewise pushed the boundaries of what fashion could be. Mill Valley–based shoemaker Mickey McGowan (aka the Apple Cobbler) sold elaborate vegan boots made with green gambling-table felt, Cub Scout patches, and Chinese silk. Artists Candace and Fred Kling painted huge, humorous animal motifs onto cotton knit dresses that were sold at the Berkeley fashion cooperative Sew What.

And then there was Helene “Helie” Robertson, whom D’Alessandro tracked down through McGowan. “When we went out on the street, we wanted people to turn and look at us,” recalls Robertson, owner of the influential Anastasia’s boutiques. “We wanted to be thought of as outrageous.”

She opened her first Anastasia’s in Sausalito in 1962 with just $800. An S.F. financial district spot followed in 1966, turning heads with a storefront outfitted with a purple jungle gym, a pink-and-orange jukebox, and a giant Superman poster. Robertson sold a mash-up of mod- and hippie-inspired looks shot through with crochet and embroidery elements borrowed from her crafty mother. “I wanted to be my own boss,” she says of her entrepreneurial impulse. The fashion world noticed; she was featured in Women’s Wear Daily and Mademoiselle.

Several of Robertson’s designs populate the de Young show, a multiroom, themepark-ish “experience” filled with light installations, those ubiquitous rock posters, and groupings of mannequins draped in vintage garb. Of one outfit, composed of a shaggy, rainbow-colored yarn jacket, a tank top with a pie appliqué, and a pair of candy-apple-red leather hot pants, Robertson says with affection: “It’s nuts.”

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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