An exhibition dedicated to flowers and botanicals in dress seems so obvious in retrospect. Flowers and nature have long been popular themes in all the arts, especially textiles. Yet noticing and focusing on what seems obvious only in hindsight is exactly the sort of quiet genius I have come to expect of the FIDM Museum. As I mentioned in my post highlighting the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, from which this exhibition drew its pieces, I am enraptured by subtle, but exquisite details in textiles and historic dress. So let’s just say that it felt as though this particular exhibition was designed just for me and my enjoyment.
Exhibitions in the Helen Larson gallery always have an intimate quality to them, which draws you in to examine the meticulous detail of the historic pieces. This is, unsurprisingly, why visiting the Helen Larson gallery is often my favorite part of a visit to the FIDM Museum. But the intimacy was particularly in harmony with this exhibition, because it perfectly complimented the pieces chosen to showcase the love affair that textile and clothing manufacturers have long had with flowers. Each of the twelve mannequins, four display cases, and one wall-mounted lace piece was a wealth of information, but only after it drew you in to examine and discover new ways in which the chosen flower was woven, embroidered, or appliquéd — or sometimes all three.
This drawing you in was the result of excellent curation, more than anything else. The garments are grouped largely by era, beginning with eighteenth century, flowing through the various, often contrasting styles of the nineteenth century, and including pieces from the early twentieth. However, the focus seems to be on the actual flowers being depicted, as you can see in the photo of the labels above. Instead of identifying foremost what type of gown it is, the flower or other botanical becomes the focus. Displaying the pieces this way meant that you almost had no choice but to notice details, and look for even more, that you might otherwise have glossed over or taken for granted.
By drawing the visitor in, the FIDM Museum let the textiles not just speak for themselves, but sing, as aspects of textile construction that I at least had often taken for granted — the seemingly endless ways in which flowers and other natural elements have been used in textile design since time immemorial — took center stage. I also found myself wondering if someone on their staff had a secret degree in botany, or if the identification of the multitude of flowers was simply the result of equally meticulous research. I feel there is not much more I can do to emphasize the sheer delight of the garments in this exhibition except to let the pieces speak for themselves.
As you can clearly see, these pieces do not need me to wax rhapsodic about their beauty, or the skill of their makers, or their infinite variety in ways of rendering the various flora. However, one thing that very much struck me as I looked closer and closer at the displays was the excellent styling of each of the mannequins. The shows at FIDM are always wonderfully done, but the skill of the staff in emphasizing their theme while maintaining the ambiance of the era of each piece was truly at its best in this exhibition.
And here is where I confess I saved the best for last! Millinery has long been a favorite aspect of fashion history of mine. I don’t pretend to know anything about it really, but I love to see examples of past fashions in hats and hat designs. The hats on display in the four display cases were nothing short of millinery marvels — and I am overjoyed that (at last) someone made hats a major feature of an exhibition. And not at all surprised that the museum to do it was FIDM.
I was most definitely not the only one in raptures with this exhibition. The lead-in to the Helen Larson gallery was student work inspired by the floral design elements on display — several of which were impressive.
It is a rare treat for an exhibition reviewer when they can sit back and let the photos do the talking. Fleurs: Botanicals in Dress at the FIDM Museum, is exactly the sort of exhibition that leaves you with an awed, satisfied silence.
Fleurs: Botanicals in Dress is on display at the FIDM Museum main campus until December 19,2015. If you wish to help FIDM purchase these amazing pieces, you can also contribute to their #4for400 campaign.
Have you been to see Fleurs? What did you think? Is there another exhibition that has left you speechless? Please share your thoughts, critiques, and ideas in the comments below. And as always, if you have an exhibition or event announcement, feel free to share it or to email me the details!