What We Are Reading Today: American Crucible by Gary Gerstle

Updated 05 August 2019

What We Are Reading Today: American Crucible by Gary Gerstle

  • Gary Gerstle traces the forces of civic and racial nationalism, arguing that both profoundly shaped our society

This sweeping history of 20th-century America follows the changing and often conflicting ideas about the fundamental nature of American society: Is the United States a social melting pot, as our civic creed warrants, or is full citizenship somehow reserved for those who are white and of the “right” ancestry? Gary Gerstle traces the forces of civic and racial nationalism, arguing that both profoundly shaped our society.

After Theodore Roosevelt led his Rough Riders to victory during the Spanish American War, he boasted of the diversity of his men’s origins —  from the Kentucky backwoods to the Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighborhoods of northeastern cities. 

Roosevelt’s vision of a hybrid and superior “American race,” strengthened by war, would inspire the social, diplomatic, and economic policies of American liberals for decades. And yet, for all of its appeal to the civic principles of inclusion, this liberal legacy was grounded in “Anglo-Saxon” culture, making it difficult in particular for Jews and Italians and especially for Asians and African Americans to gain acceptance.

Gerstle weaves a compelling story of events, institutions, and ideas that played on perceptions of ethnic/racial difference, from the world wars and the labor movement to the New Deal and Hollywood to the Cold War and the civil rights movement. We witness the remnants of racial thinking among such liberals as FDR and LBJ; we see how Italians and Jews from Frank Capra to the creators of Superman perpetuated the New Deal philosophy while suppressing their own ethnicity; we feel the frustrations of African-American servicemen denied the opportunity to fight for their country and the moral outrage of more recent black activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X.


This new Azzedine Alaia exhibition in Paris is not to be missed

A shared retrospective on Azzedine Alaia and Cristobal Balenciaga opened in Paris on Jan. 21. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 January 2020

This new Azzedine Alaia exhibition in Paris is not to be missed

  • Held under the direction of Olivier Saillard, the new exhibition will run until June 28, 2020
  • The exhibition marks the first time the two couturier’s designs are showcased alongside each other

PARIS: A shared retrospective on Azzedine Alaia and Cristobal Balenciaga, a designer whom the late Tunisian couturier admired, opened in Paris on Jan. 21 and will run until June 28. The six-month long exhibition, entitled “Sculptors of Shapes,” is the second parallel retrospective curated by Association Azzedine Alaia, following the success of last year’s “Adrian and Alaia: The Art of Tailoring.”

The shared retrospective was curated by Olivier Saillard. (Photo: Arab News)

Held under the direction of  Olivier Saillard — who curated “Azzedine Alaïa: Je suis couturier” and “Adrian and Alaia: The Art of Tailoring”— the new exhibition features 56 garments designed over the course of their respective careers in an effort to spotlight the similarities in the couturier’s tailoring, choice of fabrics and cuts.

Alaia was an avid collector of Balenciaga’s work. (Photo: Arab News)

It is the first time the two couturier’s designs are showcased alongside each other. The striking designs are presented in a white labyrinth of white mesh panels that was designed by American multimedia artist Kris Ruhs.

According to Carla Sozzani, a close friend of the late Tunisian couturier and the president of Association Alaia, it was one of Balenciaga’s protégés, Hubert de Givenchy (who died in 2018) who proposed the idea of a duet show on a visit to Alaia’s Marais studio.

Alaia was an avid collector of the Spanish designer’s work. It is said that the late couturier had collected over 400 pieces from Balenciaga over the years, including garments, furniture and art.

The exhibition marks the first time the two couturier’s designs are showcased alongside each other. (Photo: Arab News)

It was almost by chance that the late Tunisian couturier began collecting Balenciaga’s work. Shortly after the Spaniard shuttered his eponymous fashion house in 1968, Alaia was contacted by the deputy director of Balenciaga at the time to take the liberty of cutting new models from the dresses stored in the defunct workshop. However, a young Alaia chose to keep them intact and thus began building up an archive that would mark the beginning of a great collection.

  It was one of Balenciaga’s protégés, the late Hubert de Givenchy, who proposed the idea of a duet show. (Photo: Arab News)

The exhibition comes over two years after the passing of the late couturier, who died of heart failure in November 2017 in Paris.

The Association Azzedine Alaia, which was founded by Alaia, Carla Sozzani and Christoph Von Weyhe in 2007, hopes to organize three exhibitions a year featuring Alaia’s work and his extensive collection of fashion, furniture and photography.