Longform

Fashion Victim

Page 7 of 7

About Sheflin, Kammerzell says, "I know he had dropped out this year because of his personality conflicts with some of the people, and I sort of feel like it was a shame."

Sheflin says this is more than typical politics. And he's not upset with Dennita Sewell, Jim Ballinger or even the museum as a whole. He's got a problem with "a small group of women who I believe are dictating policy and running the show down there."

"Come on," Sheflin adds. "We're supposed to be celebrating fashion and fashion designers, and the majority of them are gay men. I mean, where would fashion be without gay men?"

For a long time, David Sheflin pushed for change from inside Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Costume Institute. But what may have finally closed the generation gap was his resignation from ACI -- and his decision to talk to New Times about it.

Just this past week, on Friday, April 23, the "Motorcycle Jacket" exhibition debuted in the Phoenix Art Museum's Fashion Design Gallery to a crowd of at least 300 people -- including Sheflin. Accustomed to getting automatic invitations to such events, he says he had to request one from Dennita Sewell, but in any case, Sheflin was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

"The crowd was the kind of people I've been hoping to attract for the past few years," he says, describing a scene that featured a mix of young and old, many first-time visitors to the museum -- including scores of bikers, who prominently parked their motorcycles outside.

"I was actually really proud of the museum to attract these people and to put the show on," he says.

New Times didn't receive an invitation to the event, either. Luckily, the show opened to the public the following day. Filling the gallery and even spilling into the downstairs atrium, where metallic leather and flame-painted glam rock interpretations of the motorcycle jacket are paired with a fiery orange Pan Head chopper, the show vividly illustrates the evolution of an iconic design -- from its origins as a part of a World War II flight uniform to a symbol of rock 'n' roll rebellion to an endless source of inspiration for high fashion designers from Anna Sui to Karl Lagerfeld.

It's the kind of appealing subject matter that Sheflin says will attract a larger audience for the museum. "I give it an A plus," he says. "In my opinion, this will be [curator Sewell's] most successful show to date."

Also noticeably absent from the reception, Sheflin adds, were all but one of the Arizona Costume Institute board members who had clashed with the younger man. Instead, Sheflin bumped into some of the incoming board members for next year, who he says were refreshingly friendly.

"They said they knew there were problems, and they were intent on fixing them," Sheflin says. "I think they should contact people in the community who were disenfranchised and try to get them back."

Even though he's now officially out of the loop, Sheflin is happy to see ACI be more inclusive. "That's all I've been asking for," he says. And who knows -- he says he may even consider working with the organization again.

Sheflin suspects the timing of ACI's new friendliness to the public has something to do with the group's knowledge that he was discussing the diversity issues with New Times. (In fact, New Times first raised the issue with the publicity department at Phoenix Art Museum in January. Cathy Arnold, the museum's public information officer, immediately rescinded permission for New Times to shadow Dennita Sewell as she prepared the motorcycle exhibition.)

"Something has happened down there," Sheflin says of the museum and the Arizona Costume Institute.

"We'd been talking about these problems for two years. Nothing changed before, but now, all of a sudden, it has. Well, better late than never. I'm just hoping they can maintain this momentum, because if they can, then anything's possible."

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-229-8497.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig