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First look at 'Emphatics' exhibition showcases rare avant-garde fashion

Karin Legato's archive of contemporary fashion designs is open to the public for the first time at Phoenix Art Museum

Emphatics crowd 1

Visitors walk through the "Emphatics" exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, which had details at every turn from videos of past fashion shows to mannequins dressed in vintage designer clothes.

In a vast and dramatically lit room, mannequins line every wall clothed in the avant-garde designs of McQueen, Kenzo, Lacroix and more. The Phoenix Art Museum exhibit "Emphatics" is the first time has been able to view this archive as a whole.

In celebration of First Friday on Nov. 5, the Phoenix Art Museum opened its doors for a first look at the new fashion exhibit, which is the borrowed archive of co-founder of the Emphatics boutique, Karin Legato and showcases avant-garde, contemporary fashion design from 1963-2013. 

The designs and accessories of “Emphatics” were famously created by Alaia, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Kenzo, and more. Containing over 400 pieces, the exhibit also includes original runway show invitations and videos. With special access, bloggers, ASU students, business owners and museum goers caught a first glimpse at Legato's collection.

"Emphatics" will be open to the public starting Sunday, Nov. 6 until the beginning of January 2017. Both the Phoenix Art Museum and the "Emphatics" collection are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year.

The ASU Business of Fashion Club and the Arizona Costume Institute invited select students to an event that debuted the exhibit and included an “ACI Noveau: First Look at Emphatics” private party and ACI fashion show.

In 1963, co-founder of Emphatics, the late James Legato, started an upscale hair salon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Karin Legato said her husband had the idea to create a boutique that incorporated not just hair, but clothing, lifestyle and art. 

"He conceived the idea to open an all-in-one, new concept boutique with lifestyle, music and art and renamed it Emphatics,”  Karin Legato said.

As a men’s boutique employee, Karin first met her future husband, James, after selling him a pair of pants. James invited Karin to visit Emphatics, and from then on, they were inseparable. 

“He was the artist, and I became his muse," she said.

The Legato’s travelled to Europe to scout out the perfect designs for their boutique. In the late 1970’s, Karin and James visited Paris to meet Jean Paul Gaultier after hearing so much about him. French haute couture designer and former creative director of Hermès, Gaultier’s first American clients were the Legatos. The owners of Emphatics went on to work with Christian Lacroix’s first collection, Thierry Mugler and became friends with Norma Kamali.

While working in high fashion, James had fallen ill over the years and passed away in 2015. Karin soon closed the boutique, keeping this massive collection behind closed doors. But after countless visits by museum curators, Karin chose to trust Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion design at the Phoenix Art Museum, with the collection. This is the first time Emphatics has been shown as an exhibit.

“They never intended for it to be a museum archive, it just sort of happened that way,” Sewell said. "If you open a history book of the greatest designers of this time, (Legato) picked them.” 

Fashion professionals like Legato and Sewell both agree that the history of fashion is one to remember. Sewell will also be heading ASU’s new fashion program, starting in fall 2017 where students can receive their Bachelor of Arts degree in fashion.

Also in agreement was marketing senior and Business of Fashion club member Megha Khona, who said that fashion reaches everyone. 

“Fashion is something that everyone should know," she said. "People show themselves through clothing.”

Also in attendance was an original co-founder of ASU’s Business of Fashion club, ASU alumna, founder and editor-in-chief of Couture in the Suburbs, Lindsay Viker, who said she was excited about Phoenix’s growth in the fashion industry.

“The college students who are interested in fashion, the art museum, the local designers and businesses — it’s more about bringing those communities together to experience growth than about it being nonexistent,” Viker said.

In order to harvest this process, Viker believes that the art museum and exhibit are important.

"It is a lot of people’s first exposure with high-end fashion or fashion outside of the mall," she said. "To get them to understand the industry — that is what is going to foster growth here.”

Viker’s advice to the exhibit attendees is to enjoy the exhibit, even if you don’t recognize the designers.

"Don't be intimidated," she said. "Don't think you have to know everything. Just come out and have some fun." 

This is not the first fashion exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, but it is on a much larger scale than exhibits prior.

“It’s perfect," Karin Legato said. "James would be proud.” 

"Emphatics" runs from Nov. 6th until the beginning of January 2017. Admission to the special exhibit is $5 in addition to the general admission fee. Visit the Phoenix Art Museum's website for more information on "Emphatics" and other exhibits featured there.

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