Fashion: the history, culture and people

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NPR host  and author Jacki Lyden  found herself asking that one day after decades of covering the Middle East crisis or hosting NPR’s weekend magazines.  Things for her at NPR were winding down.

“You should cover fashion,” said one of her producers, eyeing Lyden, often viewed as flamboyant in her vintage attire — at least in the public radio world.

“But we can’t do it like the big magazines or papers,” she said. “We have to do it as anthropology— and more like a salon of the air.  That’s where a public radio audiences would come in — in the amazing cultural context of fashion, and as business, diversity history, entertainment, and social commentary.

She also learned she’d have to do it as an independent producer when NPR could not sustain it. So,  she her team have.

“We’ve only begun to sit down with some of the smartest, most creative and interesting people I’ve ever interviewed,” Lyden says. “Historians, designers, professors –all get you to think — and they’re witty and engaged with the changing world. We’ve not heard nearly enough from them in public radio– even though fashion is New York’s second largest industry after finance.”

Lyden launched  the  bi-weekly podcast with senior producer Elaine Heinzman and Editor Marcus Rosenbaum, both NPR veterans, in late April.  One early inspiration? Valerie Steele, Chief Curator of the Museum at FIT.  “Fashion is a lens on culture and society,” says Valerie Steele, Ph.D., the executive director and chief curator of the Museum at FIT. “I’m surprised no one has done a program like The Seams before.”

Adds Stephen  CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, “There is no area of popular culture fashion doesn’t reach– music, art, literature, and — in the US alone, it’s a 350 billion dollar industry. Around the world, a trillion.”

And there are ethical and sustainable issues the industry must face as well, Lyden says.

Lyden hosts the Seams bi-weekly podcasts  using  conversation like a runway.   On the “catwalk” there’s the history of shapewear, or baseball uniforms, or jockey silks– or codpieces, enhanced men’s undergarments, or the upcoming debut of NY Fashion Week Men’s.   It adds in such stories as Florida’s Seminole Indian patchwork artisans.  It will profile  a new collaboration on performance  between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Parsons School of Design and the threeASFOUR label. Cultural critic Cintra Wilson, formerly of the New York Times, will make regular appearances, and expect other public radio people to pop up.  The Seams is still an occasional series on NPR, too, and can be found in iTunes or on NPR One.   

Check out The Seams Podcast website at

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