Letting the Sun In: The Textiles of Marian Clayden

BeWeave ItIn many ways, the musical Hair defined the esthetic of 1960s counterculture, bringing colorful tie-dye, rich textiles, and, yes, some nudity into mainstream success. Today, April 29, marks the 48th anniversary of the musical Hair premiering on Broadway back in 1968. Just last year we lost Marian Clayden, the great designer who created the textiles for the garments, ceremonial cloths, and hangings that truly brought the musical to life.

Clayden started her career as a painter, who soon became enthralled with the tactile work of creating and dyeing textiles. Starting out with experimental dye pots in her own kitchen, she used techniques such as shibori, tie-dye, and stitch and clamp resist methods to create stunningly vibrant fabrics for wall hangings and garments. Quickly, she gained recognition as a major player in the textile revival of the 1960s.

In the late 1960s, she attended a stage performance at Stanford University and met Nancy Potts, the artistic director. After seeing the complexity and sophistication of Clayden’s textiles, Potts revealed that she was working on a new musical that would be a perfect match for the textiles: Hair.

Marian Clayden created hundreds of yards of tye-dyed fabric for Hair, celebrating fashion as the fusion of art with everyday life. Indeed, after Hair, Clayden continued to move more toward fashion and away from exhibition art. She created her own clothing line in the 1980s, which continued successfully through 2005. Many of her handmade, limited edition garments have been worn on catwalks and the red carpet, by such stars as Oprah Winfrey!

I was only passingly familiar with Clayden’s work, and after taking a look through more of her designs I am even more eager to start experimenting with techniques like woven shibori. There’s something so real and vibrant about her work, and the resonance of her impact on the style of the 1960s and 1970s can still be felt today in the current mania for all things “retro.”

So even if you don’t have as much love for Hair as I do (my mom actually sang “Aquarius” to me as a lullaby), take some time today to appreciate the rich esthetic created by a truly genius textile artist. Click here to visit Marian Clayden’s website and see some of her most influential and beautiful works!

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