What Do Chess And Fashion Have In Common In St. Louis?

Though finding the intersection of chess and fashion may seem far-fetched, St. Louis’ World Chess Hall of Fame and the Saint Louis Fashion Fund (SLFF) have bridged the ostensible gap with a partnership that has produced two upcoming events, in August and October 2017.

SLFF, an incubator for burgeoning fashion designers, has an inaugural class of six designers who have each been tasked with developing an original chess ensemble for the contemporary chess player. The winner will be awarded a $10,000 scholarship prize, to be announced at the event PINNED! on August 1, 2017.

“Just about every sport has a uniform, and chess doesn’t,” says Shannon Bailey, chief curator at the World Chess Hall of Fame. Bailey will also curate an exhibit that will open October 5 of this year, featuring work from each SLFF designer.

We recently spoke with Bailey to discuss the partnership, as well as the unexpected connections between chess and fashion.

World Chess Hall of Fame St. Louis Alive Magazine

Tell me about the upcoming show you’ll be curating in October, featuring SLFF designers.
For the show, we are building walls within one of our galleries that will have six individual bays—one for each designer, where we’ll create an individual custom boutique for each of the designers. The challenge for us has been to address the question of, “If each designer had their own store and boutique, what would it look like?”

Contained in each bay will be their original drawings from their planning, with the chess uniforms they will have designed, and pieces from their own personal collections. We want to showcase the designers outside of chess, so there will be original clothing and jewelry, as well.

What excites you the most about the upcoming exhibit in October?
We have two shows a year in each space, and we try to transform our spaces every time. I never want them to look the same. They’re not huge spaces, and I want every exhibit to feel fresh and new. When I was first trying to think of how I would put this together so that it looks fresh, I began brainstorming how each designer could fit into the space. That got me started thinking about little rooms, or bays, as a possible solution. Something that makes you feel like you’re on a runway as you walk past the bays. We’ll have music and dramatic lighting to pull that off. This is a new opportunity for different audiences to get to know each designer.

I’m always excited to see new faces here. If a friend says, “Hey guys, let’s go to the World Chess Hall of Fame today,” it might not spark as much interest as it does when we get them in the door. Once that happens, the reaction changes to, “I never knew that about chess, and what it impacts. I had no idea there were these creative elements.” We hear that all the time, which makes me really happy. I always wanted to work in museums or be a teacher—it’s so fun to educate people and get them to think outside the box.

World Chess Hall of Fame St. Louis Alive Magazine

How does your partnership with the Saint Louis Fashion Fund contribute to the World Chess Hall of Fame mission?
We’re both unique institutions, and it’s such an unexpected combination. I like to challenge our visitors. I also love mixing the arts and the creative with the cerebral. It’s really a stereotype, because many chess players have unbelievable creative streaks within them that people don’t know about.

We’re also not just a chess-history museum. Though that is part of it, we also focus on the cultural aspects of the game. We like to show people that the stereotypes of chess and chess players—that it’s primarily for whites males, or that it’s boring and stuffy—are not true. We look at art, music, science, pop culture and more to tell the story. You also don’t have to be a chess player or know about chess in order to appreciate the exhibits.

I also love Susan Sherman (chairman of the SLFF board) and am so impressed with her work. We’re in awe of what she’s been able to put together with SLFF. I’ve known her for 10 years, since I moved to St. Louis. She also helped us market an exhibition in which we showcased dresses by Alexander McQueen, so she was very familiar with our institution. We contacted her and it was an immediate hit—we really gelled.

What do you see as the connection between fashion and chess?
One obvious connection between fashion and chess is that the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, is also a model, and has modeled for G-Star Raw. The women are also young, interesting and creative, too. So what we’re seeing with modern chess players is that they’re dressed to the nines and looking very sophisticated.

To help them develop uniform ideas, each designer was paired with a grand master who helped them along the way. They could inform them of elements of play they wouldn’t otherwise know—for example, a big puffy sleeve on a woman’s dress wouldn’t work, because you could knock pieces over. Or male players often lean on their elbows really hard, so adding a padded element to the jacket could be a successful solution. The grand masters gave the designers an idea of what it’s like to sit there for four hours to finish a chess game, and we wanted the designers to feel guided and supported throughout the project.

This post has been brought to you in part by the mentioned organization. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep ALIVE growing. Photos courtesy of those listed.

Cover image by Lou Levit

All other images courtesy of the World Chess Hall Of Fame

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