Fashion & Beauty

Profiles in Fashion: ‘The SEAMS’ on NPR

The tagline for The SEAMS, which currently airs on NPR, reads:

“Clothing Is Our Common Thread: In Every Stitch, a Story.”

Stories from The SeamsWhat a beautiful philosophy. It’s no surprise that we’re hooked on this series! The SEAMS, an independent project, is the brainchild of veteran journalist, author, and self-described “adventurer,” Jacki Lyden. She is an award-winning host and contributing correspondent at NPR News, where she has worked since 1979. She has a portfolio of extensive foreign experience (see Lyden’s contributions to Women’s Voices for Change); her byline has graced stories covering the Middle East, including both Gulf wars. Those experiences, perspectives, and lessons learned have reinforced Lyden’s belief in the intersection of fashion and the human experience.

“I created The SEAMS because I really believe in fashion as a common human experience, a historical reference, and a connective tissue between cultures,” she told us via email. “I’ve been a foreign correspondent for many years, and wherever I was (Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Thailand, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran), I went out into the markets and bought or had clothes made.”

The creative team behind The SEAMS also includes a talented cadre of women ranging from 23 to 60-plus. It includes award-winning editor and radio producer Deborah George, fashion historian and writer Christina Bevilacqua, and a small staff of researcher-producers.

When we think of public radio and its culture of gravitas reporting, we often don’t turn to it as a source of fashion reporting. “If you ask the audience, ‘Are you interested in stories about fashion, 95% say No!’ If you ask them, ‘Are you interested in stories about culture?’ 95% of them say Yes!” says Lyden. In fact, journalism, for the most part, still treats fashion as a luxury, most likely filed in a Lifestyle section. Case in point: Kee Malesky, an NPR listener, posted the following public  comment to one of The SEAMS’s stories:

I really enjoyed this story, and the rest of Jacki’s series. I have absolutely no interest in fashion for myself, but the idea of fashion as anthropology is brilliant—fashion as another way of looking at society and its evolution, and just as an aesthetic experience.

Lyden thinks the tides are turning on how we think of global fashion, and she has committed The SEAMS to the cause: “Every stitch you wear is like a syllable, forming the narrative of the story you will tell to the world.” In tandem, The SEAMS defines fashion as culture, and in doing so, deems its as a necessary component for public radio reporting. “What is fashion other than an expression of culture?” says Lyden.

The SEAMS debuted its first feature in February with “The Ebony Fashion Fair: Changing History on the Catwalk”—a much-deserved celebration of the iconic magazine’s 50-year influence on women of color.  In March, it focused on the under-the-radar story of one of Andy Warhol’s first superstar models, ‘Baby Jane’ Holzer.  Next was “The Art of a Lost American Couturier, on Display at the Met,” which illuminated the work of Charles James, considered to be America’s first couturier. And most recently it focused on Mexican designer Carla Fernández, who is crafting “A Modern Twist on Mexican Tradition.”

Since it’s debut, the show often garners a spot on NPR’s top stories. What’s clear is what the program is not—a style blog teeming with notes on trends and colors of the season. That’s a good thing; we have an abundance of those already—too many, in fact. However, at the heart of this diverse and evolving collection are stories that we often don’t hear about, stories that are under-represented and untold. And, more important, The SEAMS is a refreshing and innovative program that allows us to think of fashion differently—to see it beyond the confines of style and instead, explore its substance.

Learn more about The SEAMS on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Roselind Woods March 9, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Just found out about this yesterday…will be checking in as much as possible…very happy to know about this connection.

  • Linda Sisson July 12, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Excellent article.