University Galleries Exhibition, “Touch Me: Feeling Fashion,” Explores Relationship to Clothing

Erika Diamond, Eggshell Bodice, 2017, 16 x 19 inches, eggshells, silk, collection of the artist. Photo by artist.

Fashion is immediately associated with looks, and its popularity thrives in today’s current culture of image, reinforcing an aesthetic that is quintessentially visual. The works in the new exhibition Touch Me: Feeling Fashion, currently on view in the William Paterson University Galleries through May 3, 2024, challenge such a claim by exploring the connection between how fashion touches us—clothes on our bodies—and how we feel about it, both individually and socially.

The exhibition, on view in South and East Galleries in the Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts on campus, was curated by Laura Di Summa, associate professor of philosophy, and Casey Mathern, director of the University Galleries. Exhibiting artists Erika Diamond, Nadia Liz Estela, Susanne Goetz and Theanne Schiros, Kristen Kaas, Ani Liu, Jean Shin, Alison Weld, and Irmandy Wicaksono explore remnants, self-portraiture, identity, skins, new materials, and notions of protection. Sustainable designs by Petit Pli and functional garments from the collection of Cora Ginsburg LLC flesh out the past and future of designing for the necessity of touch.

Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday, April 27 and Saturday, May 4 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Admission is free. Professor Laura Di Summa will give a curator’s talk on Wednesday, February 28 from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. in South Gallery, followed by an opening reception for the exhibition from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.

Touch Me: Feeling Fashion is a continuation of the 2022 collaboration between the University Galleries and Di Summa, titled Fashion Is a Verb: Art, Performance, and Identity. Fashion Is a Verb demonstrated that fashion is not only a consumer object but also an artistic vehicle and an interactive performance connected to individual and social identities.

If that project was concerned with how people express themselves through their wardrobe choices, the present exhibition is concerned with our relationship to our clothing, says DiSumma. “How do our clothes make us feel about ourselves? Just as our bodies animate fabric with shape and movement, how do those garments push back and either help or hinder us? Our clothes can make us feel empowered or trapped based on how accurately they convey how we wish to appear to the world,” she says.

Mathern adds, “As much as our clothes shape us, we shape our clothes by leaving behind palimpsests, little reminders that we were here and we lived. To walk a mile in another’s shoes is to experience the world as they do,” she continues. “Fashion begins with touch. Behind every garment, there is a pair of hands; there are sartorial techniques and embroideries; there is, first and foremost, the fact that clothes touch our bodies every day, morning to night, through intervals of time that see us growing, aging, and morphing.”

The selected artists explore touch through remnants, self-portraiture, skins, new materials, reuse, and protection. Nadia Liz Estela’s deftly reworked men’s shirts—ripped, braided, reconstituted, and encased in wax—are a family portrait and a nod to her mother as much as they are commentary on society’s unspoken rules about class, gender, and race. Alison Weld also merges portraiture with remnants—from her own closet—to create undeniably Surrealist likenesses that speak to the relationship between women and our predetermined roles, and between the artist and her embodiment in her work.

Ani Liu’s Pregnancy Menswear is a celebration of the beauty of tailoring when unbidden by the constraints of traditional gender roles and of the body laid bare in all that it is capable of. Jean Shin is a fearless, compassionate historian committed to an ethos of reuse, and her hemlock skins are timely and poetic modern relics that encapsulate her brilliant approach to making art as an act of healing. Kristen Kaas also discerns the role of relics. Hers are taken from nature and bear witness to sacred family time spent gathering and gleaning, sealed and actively deteriorating within handwoven enclosures designed to prevent further touch.

Irmandy Wicaksono’s Living Knitwork Pavilion panels convey the primary role played by textiles as shelter for our bodies—second skins bearing our personal and cultural iconography—and pay tribute to the dialogue between the fields of fashion and architecture. Erika Diamond explores a full spectrum of vulnerability in fashion, from shelters created for her friends out of Kevlar to garments designed to be broken by the impressions left behind after personal interactions.

A new collaborative garment created by researchers Susanne Goetz and Theanne Schiros—who have paved the way for a new generation of designers—epitomizes their groundbreaking experiments and applications for sustainable biobased materials for fashion. London-based designer Petit Pli has harnessed the genius of the permanent pleat, perfected by couturier Mario Fortuny and championed by Issey Miyake, as a practical solution to the age-old problem of children outgrowing their clothes too quickly, creating a range of designs that grow with, and not against, young bodies. A rare early 19th century nursing bodice from the collection of Cora Ginsburg LLC is example and reassurance, perhaps surprisingly, that unnamed designers have long created functional garments that cleverly accommodate bodies in a state of flux.

A number of lectures and workshops will be held in conjunction with the exhibition. Professor Di Summa will provide a second guided tour of the exhibition on Thursday, March 7 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the South Gallery. In addition, Professors Susanne Goetz, FIT, and Theanne Schiros, PhD, FIT/Columbia University, will present their research and approach in a talk entitled “Textile Biomaterials—Ancient and Modern” on Monday, March 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the South Gallery.

Also, Professor Elizabeth Wissinger, PhD will discuss the ways in which ideas that gender design practices have hindered the development of biodesign and biofabrication for fashion in a talk entitled “A Feel for the Organism: A Design Sociology Approach to Biodesigners” on Monday, April 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the South Gallery. Children’s designer and researcher Melinda Byam will guide participants through a collage workshop that will explore how touch has helped formulate our experiences with fashion entitled “Fashioned Beginnings: Children’s Fashion, Touch, and Memories” on Tuesday, April 30 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the South Gallery. Zoom access (registration required) will be available for some events; please visit the University Galleries website at to register or join the mailing list.

Andrew Cornell Robinson: Salted Not Sugared is on view concurrently in the Court Gallery through March 22, 2024. Cornell Robinson is the 2023 grand prize winner of the University Galleries’ national juried printmaking exhibition Ink, Press, Repeat; this solo exhibition, curated by director Casey Mathern, presents new work and groups created over the last decade organized around the artist’s reminder that not everything is what it seems. Cornell Robinson employs a multifaceted artistic approach encompassing oil painting, printing, drawing, and assemblage to explore queer and peculiar revisionist histories.

This exhibition is supported in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The William Paterson University Galleries are wheelchair-accessible. Large-print educational materials are available. For additional information, please call the William Paterson University Galleries at 973-720-2654.