Distance may prevent me from seeing the Charles James exhibition at the Met, or the Museum at FIT‘s current exhibition, Exposed: A History of Lingerie, which opened June 3 and will be up until November 15; but I will still be travelling quite a bit this summer, from one end of California to the other.
In July, in addition to a trip to Los Angeles especially to see the latest FIDM Museum exhibition, Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection (open until November 1) and LACMA‘s Kimono for a Modern Age (July 5 – October 19) and Treasures from Korea (June 29 – September 28), I will also be making the trek to San Francisco to see the Asian Art Museum‘s GORGEOUS, open June 20 – September 14. GORGEOUS intrigues me because it seems to aim at encouraging visitors to explore or even challenge their perceptions of beauty — be that in art or in appearance and aesthetics in general. According to the Asian’s website, the exhibition features 72 paintings, sculptures, objects of high design or decoration and photographic works from both the Asian’s collection and that of the SF MoMA (currently undergoing a major renovation); the exhibition spans cultures and millennia and “in an attempt to shift the focus from historical and cultural contexts, emphasiz[es] instead the unique ways each work announces itself or solicits a viewer’s attention emphasizing instead the unique ways each work announces itself or solicits a viewer’s attention.”
Look for my Los Angeles reviews in my August columns, and my review of GORGEOUS in my July 23rd post.
For my first column in July (July 9), I will be covering (virtually) the upcoming Kent State University exhibition, The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War, which opens July 24. I cannot attend, but I will be interviewing curator Sara Hume about the exhibition, its challenges and its aims. World War I fashion is something I have long loved — it is the only reason I started watching Downton Abbey, I confess — so I am looking forward to speaking with Sara and sharing what I learn with you.
Other fashion-related happenings in June and July include the Fashion Tech Forum, happening today in New York city. According to the website, the forum’s purpose is to “provide a platform for fashion, design, and technology to connect and collaborate on hot to work together in the future.” This sounds like an interesting topic, and I’d be curious to hear if anyone went, what they thought, or if any of you have had any ideas or experiences with something similar in your classrooms or museums in the comments!
In Detroit, Bruce Weber’s photographs of the city’s people and their clothing are on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The exhibition combines two projects of Weber’s, the first an assignment from W magazine to photograph Kate Moss in unfamiliar surroundings, the second highlighting the city, its people, evolution, and dynamic. The exhibit opened June 20, and will be up until September 7.
As always, please feel free to share your experiences of and thoughts about any of these exhibitions — or even those I’ve not mentioned — in the comments below. Also please share any exhibitions or events you want shared either in the comments or by email.
It looks like it will be a truly wonderful summer for fashion exhibitions!
As we were informed by Kristen of the Newport Restoration Foundation the last time I did an event roll call, there is a small but wonderful exhibition at the Foundation looking at the fashion of tobacco heiress, Doris Duke, called No Rules: The Personal Style of Doris Duke.
Worn Through’s Jill Morena started a wonderful series of posts yesterday on the Charles James exhibition, A Thin Wall of Air: Charles James, at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. The exhibition closes September 7, and be sure to read Jill’s post from yesterday and to look for her next installment!
In Los Angeles, the FIDM Museum just opened an exhibition today of rare Hollywood costume sketches from the collection of Christian Esquevin, author of Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label, called Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection, which will be open until November 1. Opening later this month (June 26) at their Orange County campus will be a second exhibition, International Inspiration: The Donald and Joan Damask Collection, featuring a recent donation of over 75 pieces of vintage clothing and world dress, objects by Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, and theatrical designs by Erté. International Inspiration also closes November 1, and look for my review in September or October after I make the trek down to Orange County.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I am eagerly anticipating the opening of Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392 – 1910 at the end of this month (June 29), and even more so, Kimono for a Modern Age which opens on July 5. Did any of you get to see Treasures from Korea in Philadelphia?
All of this on top of Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the CSA fortieth anniversary symposium last week, Charles James at the Met, Draped Down at the Studio Museum in Harlem (check out the Domestic Affairs guest post from the creator and curator, Monique Long from last week), and many more.
Do you, like Kristen, have an exhibition in your institution or at one nearby? Have you been to any of these exhibitions mentioned? What did you think? Did you go to CSA National which I unfortunately had to miss this year? What did you think?
Please feel free to share exhibition and event announcements in the comments below, or to email me with details. I’d also love to hear about your experiences at any of these events or any I might have missed. Please share your experience in the comments!
Opening image: 2002.367 Circus Skirt from the Doris Duke exhibition at the Newport Restoration Foundation
I tend to think of May as the Golden Month for fashion exhibitions, due to the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fashion exhibition, the Met Gala with all its red carpet oggling opportunity, and so many other museums gearing up for their summer exhibitions. The Met’s exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion opens this week (May 8), with member previews yesterday and today (May 6 & 7). The accompanying Met Gala was Monday night.
This exhibition has been a source of excitement and anticipation within the fashion history community, and I don’t know of any of my friends in the field who aren’t eager either to see it or to at least get the catalogue. Former Worn Through contributor, Ingrid Mida, has said on her own blog that Charles James is one of her must-see exhibitions this year (along with the Museum at FIT’s Elegance in an Age of Crisis). The joy of the internet age is that for those of us who can’t make it to the actual exhibition, the exhibition website offers a way to experience it virtually. One such is the video de-constructing James’s ‘Ribbon Dress,‘ featured at the New York Times this weekend. It is interesting to compare the ‘Ribbon Dress’ — with its masterful construction — with the bias-cut tweed gown from the beginning of James’s career featured in the Museum at FIT’s Elegance in an Age of Crisis video, to see that while James’s taste was always impeccable, it takes time and experience and mistakes to become the master couturier he was. There is a second video through the museum website through the 82nd & Fifth blog, in which Consulting Curator Jan Glier Reeder discusses one of James’s evening gowns.
Much-anticipated as the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion has been, it is not the only thing happening this month, not even in New York. Over at The Studio Museum in Harlem, their exhibition, Draped Down, has been open since late March and will close June 29. According to the museum’s website, “Draped Down looks at both the implicit and explicit references to fashion in visual art. The title is adapted from a renaissance-era slang term meaning well-dressed; to be in the height of Harlem fashion. The term “draped down” was culled from a short story that the novelist and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston published in 1942.” I’m very pleased to announce that the exhibition organizer, Curatorial Fellow Monique Long, will be doing a guest post on the exhibition for Worn Through that will be posted here on May 21.
At the New York Historical Society Museum & Library, Bill Cunningham: Facades is entering its last month. The exhibition opened in March and will close June 15. The show features photographs from an eight-year project Cunningham began in 1968, “which paired models—in particular his muse, fellow photographer Editta Sherman—in period costumes with historic settings.” According to the museum, “Cunningham’s work will be reconsidered in a show that will highlight the historical perspective the photographs suggest—not just of the distant past, but of the particular time in which they were created.”
In Philadelphia, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love opened last weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Running until November 30, the exhibition “is an expansive retrospective showcasing some eighty ensembles that were recently presented to the Museum as a promised gift by Kelly’s business and life partner, Bjorn Guil Amelan, and Bill T. Jones. Kelly’s designs are complemented by selections from the artist’s significant collection of black memorabilia, videos of his exuberant fashion shows, and photographs by renowned artists including Horst P. Horst, Pierre et Gilles, and Oliviero Toscani.”
Scottish Knot Brooch
1850 – 1860
Here in California, the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles has opened Artfully Adorned: Jewelry from the Christie Romero Collection on display in the Annette Green Fragrance Archive at the main campus in downtown L.A. The exhibition explores two hundred years of jewelry history through 50 pieces from Christie Romero’s private collection.
Are there any exhibitions opening in your area (North America only) that you want to let people know about? Feel free to email me, or to leave details in the comments!
Have any of you been to Charles James: Beyond Fashion, yet? Are you intending to go? What were your favourite Met Gala moments? Have any of you seen Draped Down at The Studio Museum, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the Phildelphia Museum of Art, or Bill Cunningham: Facades at the New York Historical Society? If so, please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.
Opening image credit: Charles James with Model, 1948, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Beaton / Vogue / Condé Nast Archive. Copyright © Condé Nast
Last night I was able to attend the last of a series of talks curated by Dr Carolyn Mair, MA course leader at London College of Fashion (LCF), and entitled ‘Looking Ahead…isms in Fashion’. Previous talks in the series have covered topics such as ageism, racism and ableism, underlining LCF’s initative Better Lives, which aims to develop our understanding of sustainaiblity within the business of fashion. This final presentation was a panel discussion between a range of diverse speakers, all asked to reflect upon what the Chair, Dr Phil Sams, suggested were ‘tools’ at our disposal in effecting positive change upon a range of long-held stereotypes within the fashion industry.
James Partridge, founder and CEO of UK charity Changing Faces
The discussion was structured around brief presentations by all the speakers and the order of service was well considered. It began with two very positive, eloquent and engaging introductions by James Partridge, the founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the distinguished UK charity supporting people with disfigurements, and Caryn Franklin MBE, fashion broadcaster and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an independent organization focused on challenging stereotypes of body ideals within the fashion industry.
All Walks Beyond the Catwalks 2013 campaign to diversify media representation of body shapes
Both were able to raise questions about fashion, well-being and diversity that struck a personal chord with the audience. James engaged us by revealing just how many people know someone with a disfigurement while noting how research suggests we still psychologically associate negative characteristics with people based upon their physical appearance. Caryn suggested we consider what is meant by ‘success’ not just within the fashion industry but when we get dressed every morning. Caryn asked us whether what we chose to wear was an experience of anxiety and conformity or affirmation and individualisation. This personal approach to the subject of exclusion, identity and fashion was certainly inspiring. While Caryn talked of the ‘extraordinary’ as a profitable antidote to the emphasis on normalization within the business of fashion, James highlighted a recent media campaign by Illamasqua, a cosmetics company, whose slogan ‘beauty is imperfection’ helped to recognize facial diversity within society.
Illamasqua 2013 ‘Imperfection’ campaign featuring a model with a facial birthmark
However, for me, the highlight of the panel discussion was the elucidating contributions by the last two speakers. Firstly, Dr Chris Pawson, a community psychologist and Principal Lecturer in Clinical & Community Psychology at the Institute for Research in Child Development, reminded us of how external circumstances, such as socio-economic systems, can negatively impact upon our mental well-being. As he put it, some people definitely have a rougher time of it than others. To only suggest a range of therapeutic methods that focus on self-improvement fails to address wider communal issues. Chris drew our attention to the way in which stereotypes are the products of socialization, not just cognitive hardwiring as referred to by other panel and audience members. Chris also voiced the oppression felt by young people when faced with pressure to conform to fashion trends or particular ways of dressing in order to be fully accepted into society, however, he was equally optimistic about fashion’s contribution to enhanced self-esteem.
M&S 2013 clothing campaign featuring Helen Mirren (actress), Tracey Emin (artist) and Katie Piper (philanthropist)
Chris was followed by Dr Carolyn Mair, the primary instigator behind these talks, who pointed out that fashion was still a very narrow business in terms of social representation, reflected in the fact that a third of Britain’s population are over the age of fifty yet barely seen in fashion representation. However, the fact that the clothes worn by Helen Mirren and Tracey Emin in the recent Marks & Spencer (M&S) campaign were the first to sell out clearly highlight the profits of appealing to a more diverse fashion consumer.
Both Chris and Carolyn brought a critical eye to a discussion that covered explicit themes such as the normalization of dress, identity and diversity, yet, arguably, more implicit themes of exclusion, anxiety and conformity were less considered. Here, it might have been interesting to include Daniel Miller, material anthropologist at UCL, or Rebecca Arnold, fashion historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art, who have both written about the various ways in which fashion and dress manifests anxieties around a range of issues, including perceived body ideals.
Instead, the final contribution to the discussion was given by Zowie Broach, co-creator of Boudicca, a London based design house, whose practitioner stance would offer insight into how fashion design might help to improve our lives. Unfortunately, her presentation with its focus on a recent art piece rather than the inherent structural challenges of working in fashion failed to engage me despite her being considerably moved by what the other speakers had to say. Zowie observed that the issues raised all made her feel quite ‘sad’. Yet it seems to me that if the fashion industry and the public are to move forward in terms of broadening our perception of what is ‘normal’, perhaps it is better to transform this sympathy, which rarely resolves and more often condones ‘isms’, into an empathy so we can start to imagine ourselves in the body/dress of another in an effort to see the world from their perspective.
Boudicca’s The Liquid Game, 2014 ( audio-visual installation)
The final audience discussion was disappointing, with very little time allowed to hear a range of questions, and was not helped by the panel Chair, who drew upon previously featured speakers amongst the audience for contributions rather than pursue lesser well-known faces amongst the sitting crowd. This was a missed opportunity to have a dialogue about ‘isms’ in more depth and perhaps in future, the panel might consider asking audience members for questions in advance.
Yet, despite these minor criticisms, the discussion was a useful starting point for thinking about cultural values, as both social and psychological phenomenon, and broader concerns about sustainability of the fashion industry. As Sandy Black has made clear, the notion of ethical or sustainable fashion is paradoxical: while the industry operates on wastefulness and obsolescence, it simultaneously claims to be our ecological and economic ally. This is perhaps why it is a challenge for designers such as Boudicca to be understood in a more critical light. But, last night’s discussion went some small way towards more intellectual reflection of cultural practices and their influence upon our efforts to ‘do better’ by fashion and by default by our complex, dressed social lives.
Finally, if you are studying anything to do with dress, fashion and mental health, I would love to hear from you. Recently, here in the UK, it was revealed that one in four people have a mental health disability. How might this impact upon people, especially when it is also often hidden from the normative gaze? How does the role of dress function within this newly emerging socio-cultural context?
 p252, Sandy Black ‘Ethical Fashion and EcoFashion’ in Steele, Valerie (ed) (2010) The Berg Companion to Fashion New York, Berg.
In my last column, I discussed a number of events that were coming up in March and April. Virginia Postrel informed me via the comments that in addition to Hollywood Costume, the Phoenix Art Museum is mounting their own look at red carpet gowns, Hollywood Red Carpet – a fantastic accompaniment to the Hollywood Costume exhibition, conceived and curated by curator Dennita Sewell.
Not to be biased — though I do live here — but there are several happenings this month, here in California in case you live here as well, or are planning a West Coast trip.
This past weekend, CSA-Western Region had an event touring the legendary Western Costume company followed by a visit to FIDM Museum’s 22nd Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. As mentioned in my review last month, the exhibition includes costumes from The Great Gatsby, which won the Academy Award for best Costume Design, and 12 Years A Slave, which won best picture. I was not able to attend this event, but if any of you were able to attend this event, please feel free to share your impressions or experience in the comments below, or email me directly!
While not strictly fashion- or dress-studies related, the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach opened their exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s personal collection of photos: Frida Kahlo, Her Photos. Most of the images were taken by her father and grandfather, pioneers in the field of photography, and are a wonderful insight into the artist’s personal, private world, including Frida’s own unique, indigenous-inspired style.
At the Walt Disney Family Museum, in the Presidio in San Francisco, tickets have gone on sale for Colleen Quen’s 19 April Illustration Workshop: “Couture fashion and Watercolor Design”. According to Ms Quen, she will be discussing “how fashion and costume design are integral in creating character,” and she will teach attendees how to incorporate watercolour and ink into their own drawings and designs. Their workshop this month on female animators sold out, so get tickets now!
At the Lacis Museum in Berkeley, their exhibition, Smocking: Manipulating Fabric and Beyond opened on 8 March and will be up until October. My opening image is from their website. I will definitely be making my way there before it closes. There is also a CSA-WR meet-up scheduled for 22 March, so if you would like to attend with CSA, email me and I will put you in touch with the organizers! Otherwise, it looks like a fantastic exhibit if you have the time. Look for my review here, soon.
In San Jose, Metamorphosis: Clothing & Identity is still on display at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles. The exhibition is getting lots of attention, and was recently written up in Selvedge magazine. There will also be a Fiber Talk & trunk show by three contributors to the show, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Jean Cacicedo, and Janet Lipkin next week on 30 March. I suspect this will be a very popular event, so be sure to buy tickets quickly.
I do have news of one non-California event: in New York, Fern Mallis’s latest Fashion Icon talk will be with John Varvatos on 27 March at the Kaufmann Concert Hall.
As always, if you have been to any of these events and would like to share your experience, or if you have additional information to add, feel free to leave a comment! I love hearing about any North American events I may have missed — it’s a big continent and there’s no way I can find everything! — so feel free to let me know about them either in the comments or by email.
February, March and April are turning out to be very busy months for fashion exhibitions and events. It’s the sort of situation that makes me very angry at Star Trek: they promised me the future would have teleportation, after all.
Registration has begun for the 2014 Costume Society of America’s National Symposium, in Baltimore this year, celebrating 40 years of CSA.
The Italian Futurism exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York city, is entering its third week, and features a few lovely garments and textiles; while at the Museum at FIT, Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s is entering its second month. Given my love for all things material culture of the 1920s and 30s, words cannot describe how much I wish I could see these two. The Museum at FIT’s Trendology exhibition will also be up until 30 April.
Also in New York, the American Folk Art Museum‘s Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art exhibition will be up until 23 April. Jessica Sofia Mitrani: Headpieces for Peace closes this month at the French Institute: Alliance Française.
At the MFA in Boston, their exhibition, Think Pink, explores the changing meaning of ‘pink’ in both art and fashion. The exhibition opened in October last year and will be up through the end of May.
If you missed the costumes at FIDM Museum’s Television costume show this past summer — or if you’re just suffering withdrawals, now season four has ended — the Costumes of Downton Abbey show will be up at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library until January 2015. I saw them when I was in LA the end of this past summer and they are truly beautiful pieces.
Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392 – 1910 opened this weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing 150 objects of which many have never before been seen outside Korea, including several examples of dress and textiles. I’m very excited about this exhibition’s next stop in its US tour: LACMA. While I was a Japanese studies major in my undergraduate work, I’ve always preferred the artwork and textile arts of Korea so I will definitely be making a trip to Los Angeles to see it. Look for my review this summer!
At the Wilshire May Company in Los Angeles, Diane von Furstenberg’s 40th Anniversary show, Journey of a Dress, is in its last month.
Last but not least, I received an invitation to the opening of Hollywood Costume at the Phoenix Art Museum on 26 March. Oh how I wish I could go! But perhaps I will find a way to make it to Arizona before the exhibition closes on 6 July…
Have any of you been to any of these exhibitions? What did you think? Are there any other events that you think our readers should know about? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts and impressions in the comments below, or email me with announcements!
When I worked for the FIDM Museum last autumn, it honestly felt like I was getting up to go hang out with my friends rather than “real work” (though it was a lot of that, too). So I was rather pleased to be invited to the opening for their latest exhibitions, the 22nd Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design, and BLISS, displaying 19th-Century wedding dresses and other objects from the Helen Larson collection. The opening was covered by several Los Angeles publications, such as The Hollywood Reporter, and was — as you can see in the image above — a very popular event. With the Academy Awards approaching, the V&A Hollywood exhibition moving on from Virginia this month, and Jill’s wonderful post about the Cosprop costume exhibition in Texas, it is not really surprising that the FIDM Museum’s exhibition has attracted such attention. What is so amazing about the exhibition is the way in which they manage to gather all of these costumes together, and still wow their audiences year after year.
I saw my first Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition at FIDM in 2011, where my own research into Kashmir shawls made the Jane Eyre display particularly interesting for me, as I was able to see how they imitated the imitations for the film. I was also attending on a Saturday in the midst of a CSA event, so it was not nearly so crowded as this attendance. I also now know, from having worked with the museum staff and the exhibition curator and Museum Coordinator, Michael Black, how much work goes into this show. Studios and production teams don’t always keep track of where their costumes go after the film wraps, so the finding and displaying of all of the costumes is nothing short of a miracle that Mike manages to reproduce every year. This year was particularly difficult, especially with some costumes which were borrowed from overseas being held by customs until just a couple days before the opening on 8 February.
What struck me most about this year’s show was the sheer variety of costume design on display — a variety not always seen in the Academy Award nominations, I might point out. Starting with science fiction and fantasy costumes in the first gallery and first part of the second gallery, the exhibition showed select costumes from Ender’s Game, Pacific Rim, Oblivion, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Man of Steel, Thor: The Dark World, and Oz, The Great and Powerful, among others. Contrary to expectations with The Hunger Games, it was not the gloriously ridiculous outfits worn by citizens of the Capital that were on display, but those garments that had to have fabric specially designed and created for the pieces, such as Jena Malone’s ‘tree’ costume for her role as Johanna Mason. This was a theme that Michael Black emphasized throughout the exhibition — but which really stood out among the sci-fi and fantasy costumes — a “focus on unique fabrics that are often made from scratch to specifically fulfill the look needed for each character”.
The Great Gatsby
The remaining costumes ranged from historic — Renaissance for Romeo & Juliet, 19th-century for The Invisible Woman, Anna Karenina, and 12 Years a Slave, to early 20th-century for The Great Gatsby, The Grandmaster, and 42 – to orientalist fantasy for 47 Ronin. The latter was an interesting fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean traditional dress with the sort of costumes I used to see when I read manga as a teenager. There was also the work of at least three FIDM graduates, a wonderful way for current students to see the work of various alumni. There are also six displays by designers nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for costume design.
When I attended that first Motion Picture Costume exhibition three years ago, I was actually disappointed by the costumes. Many that had looked absolutely luscious on screen were, in person, a bit dull. For example, the above mentioned imitation of a Kashmir shawl was obviously stamped cotton (not a surprise, considering budget restrictions, but there are historic imitations that used stamping and looked more accurate than this modern one did). Or the costumes from Madonna’s W.E.: the black suit with white appliqué trim for Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson had none of the appeal or glamour it did on screen (I would like the two hours of my life I spent watching that particular film back, but that’s another story). This year, I was absolutely astounded by the detail.
Oz, The Great and Powerful
The Great Gatsby (Daisy)
And it was not just the beautiful embroidery, beading and appliqué that was so impressive. It was the attention to detail: the simple elegance of a dress worn by Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby emphasized her character and her place as Daisy’s foil (I asked assistant registrar, Ilana Winter, if I could have that dress, she said no). Then there was a man’s tie on one of the costumes from Saving Mr. Banks which captured the era in a single accessory that is hard to explain. Even more so, was the wearing and tearing done to the costumes of 42 that made them look like they really had been worn in a baseball game. Or the delicate contrast that you had to look for to see between Michael Fassbender’s and the several slave costumes from 12 Years a Slave. Such common, if not pretty, details exemplify the sort of research and attention that is necessary to not only help the actors inhabit the character, but for the audience to inhabit the story.
12 Years a Slave
Saving Mr. Banks
The Great Gatsby (Jordan)
This attention to detail was a perfect segue into the other exhibition that opened that night, BLISS: 19th-Century Wedding Gowns from the Helen Larson Collection. Showing ten or twelve gowns, the show manages to illustrate the breadth of wedding gowns and wedding paraphernalia for the era. From the Belle Epoque with its opulence, to my favourite eras, early 19th-century empire gowns and Romantic era bell-sleeves, seemingly every fashion and detail of the century could be found in this small collection of dresses, gloves, shoes, bonnets, and fans.
The tiny gallery was absolutely crowded full of visitors — as full as the main gallery — every one of them speaking in admiration of the gowns, and more than a few aghast at how tiny the corseted waists were. The inclusion of individual bonnets, gloves, shoes, and in one case a letter accepting a proposal along with gloves and an engagement ring, gave a complete picture of the material culture of upper class weddings of the time period. It is also an excellent fundraising tool: each text panel showed the amount needed to be raised by the museum to purchase this particular piece for the collection, so that visitors could pledge what they could for their favourite garments and be involved in the acquisition.
It was also a wonderful way for independent scholars and students of dress history to see a collection that has not yet been digitized. The gown below — complete with hair arrow — fits perfectly with one of my current research focuses: the use and copying of Indian fabrics as evidence of the influence of Indian aesthetics on those of Britain. The gown looks to be made of an imitation saree fabric, with its simple print and detailed border (at the hem). I sense a research trip may be in order!
I could go on and on showing pictures and discussing the excellent curation and beautiful display. I was truly excited about getting to see my friends at FIDM, and seeing the exhibition, but I was completely unprepared for this year’s exhibition and the way little details still keep sneaking up on me. The array of costumes, well-displayed, and the exquisite nature of all the pieces from BLISS was in keeping with FIDM’s standards, but still incredible to see in person. As Michael Black says in his introduction to the film costumes exhibition, the displays really do cause visitors to “think about the fact that costume designers are often on the cutting-edge of researching new fabrics and techniques of creating and manipulating them to present the costumes you see on the screen”. Juxtaposed with the historic techniques, and couture craftsmanship seen in the wedding gowns in BLISS, I feel the two exhibition compliment each other.
The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition will be on display until 26 April, and BLISS will be up until 5 July.
Please share your comments below. And remember, if you are in North America and have any exhibitions or events happening in your area that you would like featured, just email me the details!
Schiaparelli observing her own brand’s fur coat and a Lanvin hat.
We are certainly enjoying a Schiaparelli moment: following the revival of the couture house by Diego della Valle seconded by Farida Khelfa and Marco Zanini and the Prada/Schiaparelli exhibition held at the MET in 2012, the auction house, Christie’s has organised an exceptional sale of her personal collection in Paris, on the 23rd January 2014.
Marisa Berenson, the granddaughter of the iconic 1930s fashion designer decided to let go of about 180 pieces illustrating the personal taste of Elsa Schiaparelli – an eccentric time capsule made of art pieces, furniture, sketches, clothing and accessories.
Jules Chéret – Folies Bergères, la Loie Fuller, 1893.
No need to play with suspense, the auction was a real success. The pre-sale estimate was doubled and reached a total of 1.686.250 €. In the sale’s top ten appear such pieces as a pair of carved marble leopards, an Alberto Giacometti lamp, Aubusson tapestries along photographies of the designer by Man Ray and Horst P. Horst. But fashion was not left aside as a Balenciaga plaid as well as an ensemble of Schiaparelli patterns reached elevated prices.
An ensemble of 1950s patterns.
It is not the first time Christie’s delivers important fashion auctions (past memorable examples include Anna Piaggi or Vivienne Westwood’s personal collections) but it is the first time it takes place in Paris and no better time nor place could have been chosen at the peak of the haute couture season.
All that made the Italian fashion designer unique could be observed during the collection’s exhibition: her love for fantasy and surrealism – an art movement she deeply collaborated with, the close relationship between art and fashion – an association the auction house has ingenuously accounted with its presentation mingling fashion pieces and art objects, her strong taste for oriental aesthetics and the legendary shocking pink.
Probably Schiaparelli, Black Mink Hood, End of 1930s.
How interesting to inspect the inventive environment La Schiap lived in and what she loved to wear. Fashion wise, she definitely had a thing for furs (on the 49 fashion related lots, 12 are fur pieces), she also privileged oriental wear inspired by her Tunisian home and I can definitely imagine her lounging around in those vivid and precious tunics and dresses and finally, when it comes to the garments she would select from her personal brand, embroidered tops seemed to be favoured. How exciting to observe for real the ‘Astrologie’ collection with its key piece: a violet silk blouse embroidered by Lesage and the impressive 1940 beaded rodeo waistcoat that Karl Lagerfeld would have probably loved to have in his Paris/Dallas show. I also fell deeply in love with an embroidered shocking pink bolero: a feminine and sensual matador.
Schiaparelli – Pink Wool, 1940.
As for the furniture and various objects that adorned her interior, there was definitely something of a Renaissance ‘cabinet de curiosités’ as Elsa Schiaparelli seemed to mix and match such a diverse selection of styles and influences: Art Deco met Baroque while French Second Empire blended with Louis XVI Chinoiseries…All these objects illustrate the eclectic almost bohemian-like setting the designer had created for herself. It is hard not to think that only such an avant-garde and creative personality could assume mixing so many different genres – the sign of the surrealist movement she felt connected to.
Wedding Kaftan (1930) against an Aubusson Tapestry.
The auction also highlighted her artistic friendships with objects imagined by the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, the illustrators Christian Bérard and Marcel Vertès or the photographer Man Ray: a fascinating fragment of 1930s modernist art.
Marcel Vertès – Schocking, 1946.
In the whole, along the obvious financial logic behind the auction (I must admit I’m always a little disturb by the fact that trustees sell off objects from their ancestors like this), it was also a formidable situation for us curious historians to take a closer look at the intimate life of a famed fashion designer. Although we may have read numerous books or visited exhibitions that explained her work, we definitely got to know Elsa Schiaparelli better through her intimate collection that not only highlighted her inspirational taste but also brought us on a journey through her times’ contemporary art scene.
I do hope, as it happens in London and New York, this will make Parisian auction houses organise further major couture and fashion sales as we clearly miss them here!
You can browse the auction’s catalogue on Christie’s website.
Take a look at Heather Vaughan’s post about the designer.
Rediscover the MET’s exhibition uniting Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli
Read her autobiography: Schiaparelli, Elsa. Shocking Life. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2007.
Discover Showstudio’s Conversation between Hubert de Givenchy and Marisa Berenson.
January is a busy month for exhibitions, events, and symposia for fashion studies.
First, the Southeastern Region of Costume Society of America (CSA) is holding its annual symposium from January 9 through 11. The symposium will be hosted by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and is focusing on Fashion & Film. This is no doubt due to the Hollywood Costume exhibition (which I have mentioned in my past two columns) is on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts through February. Worn Through intern Jon Frederick will be speaking at the symposium about the Ballet Russes and their influence on modern fashion in the early 20th century. This is definitely one of those occasions where I wish I had a limitless travel budget…
The Western Region of CSA will have an event the same weekend. On January 11, the Western Region will have a personal tour of the de Young Museum’s “The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950 – 1990” exhibition, as well as a curator-led tour of their current lace exhibition, curated by Kristen Stewart. Registration closes on January 3, and spaces are limited. I will not be able to make the event, but will be visiting the exhibitions, so look for a review in my next column!
There are also a couple of exhibitions that are closing here in Northern California in January and early February. In Berkeley, the Lacis Museum’s “Early Italian Needlework“ exhibition (from which the image above was taken), will close on February 8 — again, look for a review in my first column of February. In San Jose, the San Jose Museum of Quits and Textiles has four exhibitions closing on January 19: Fiberart International, Translucence: Cathy Breslaw, Art Cloth Network: Interpretations, and Quilt Detective: Fake, Fraud or Finished? These four wonderful small exhibitions will be coming down to make way for the SJMQT’s next big exhibition, Metamorphosis: Clothing and Identity, which will open January 29, and which I’m hoping to assist in mounting.
If there is anything happening in your area that you would like to inform Worn Through readers of, don’t hesitate to email me, or leave a link in the comments!
I do not know much about the golden age of Hollywood. I know names when they are written or said, and I have seen plenty of classic Hollywood films provided they star Myrna Loy and William Powell, or Hepburn and Tracy, among a very few others. So it was not until Turner Classic Movies asked Deborah Nadoolman Landis to host their Friday Night Spotlight all this month focusing on Hollywood Costume that I finally saw such legendary performers as Marlene Dietrich and Claudette Colbert.
The Spotlight comes at an apropos time, with Ms Nadoolman Landis’s book, Hollywood Costume having just been published by Abrams (as many of you know, we gave away a copy two weeks ago), and the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Hollywood exhibition on display in Virginia until February.
Due to a family medical emergency and an error on my part setting up the DVR, I missed the second week of Ms Nadoolman Landis’s choices and introductions, and I must say I feel the loss. I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the first week more than I anticipated I would – I have even forbidden my family from removing any of the films from the DVR, not because I don’t already own Casablanca, but because watching it with Nadoolman Landis’s commentary is better.
I felt that Blonde Venus, while a not particularly good story or venue for Marlene Dietrich’s obvious talent, was an excellent introduction choice by Ms Nadoolman Landis to acquaint audiences with the work of Travis Banton. Banton’s designs were amazing in the way they were not obvious. Minor things, such as small tears in Dietrich’s clothes when her character had descended into destitution, enhanced the character, rather than distracted from it. However, I confess that for me the weak script made this film was a waste of both Banton’s and Dietrich’s talents.
Costume for Cleopatra, Cleopatra, 1934. Costume designer Travis Banton. The Collection of Motion. Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen.
Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum
Far better was the second film, Cecil B. deMille’s Cleopatra of 1934. As Ms Nadoolman Landis pointed out in her introduction to the film, historic costumes always look like the time in which the film was made; hence the clear evidence to our eyes of the influence of 1930s, bias-cut evening gowns on Banton’s designs for Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, as well as her attendants, and the women of Rome. And yet, in several places it was very clear that both Banton and deMille had done their research, as it takes great skill and artistry to transform historic images and garments into something that will appeal to a contemporary audience, immersing them in the world without distracting from the story. I did at some points wonder whether Colbert had to be carried on and off the set, the cut of many of the gowns was so severe, but it emphasized Colbert’s portrayal of the original femme fatale, rather than distracted.
It was also fascinating to see such a juxtaposition of Banton’s talents: contemporary and historical epic. The showing of both films emphasized Nadoolman Landis’s discussion of Travis Banton’s ability to create unique costumes not only for the actress – emphasizing her attributes and enhancing them – but subtley enhancing the story and the film’s general artistic aesthetic.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis’s next two choices also showcased the range and mastery of her second highlighted designer: Orry-Kelly. Her introduction to Casablanca allowed me to watch the film with new eyes. She discussed Kelly’s restrictions working during the fabric and clothing rationing of World War II, and the rejection by the director of some of Kelly’s initial designs because they were “too glamorous” for refugees on the run from the Gestapo. The next film, Auntie Mame, has become a new favourite of mine, largely because of the wonderful performance given by Rosalind Russell as the title character. And yet, and yet… without Deborah Nadoolman Landis’s introduction and discussion of the film, while I would have loved the costumes, I’m not sure I would have known to pay attention to the subtle ways in which they emphasized the character – or seen that Rosalind Russell was, as Nadoolman Landis said, in on the joke. I shall forever be enamoured of Auntie Mame’s blue turban with the blue feathers erupting from the top in the elevator. The contrast between the cotton creations Orry-Kelly made under wartime restrictions for Casablanca and the extravagant, beaded, jewel-toned masterpieces he made in 1958 for Auntie Mame were a wonderful way to showcase what a good designer can do both when he is working under strict rules, and the restraint he can show when the sky is the limit.
Costume for Irene Bullock, My Man Godfrey, 1936. Costume designers Travis Banton and Brymer. Gown and duster jacket designed by Travis Banton. The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen.
Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum
The value of Nadoolman Landis as a guide was felt when TCM then showed an additional two films – The Women and Anna Karenina, both costumed by Adrian – but not chosen by or discussed by her. I actually found myself disappointed because I know Adrian’s work well, and I had enjoyed seeing the work of designers who had previously been unknown to me. I also have a prejudice towards Dinner at Eight and the ‘goddess gown’ that made Adrian famous, but mostly it was the lack of knowledge behind the designer’s process that I had missed.
My only criticism was the lack of discussion of what the men wore. Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat and snap-brimmed fedora were mentioned briefly, but that was it. What about the suits for the young Patrick in Auntie Mame? I am aware that in the thirties, the male actors were left to purchase their own suits for their roles, but did they collaborate with the designers at all about what suits to wear in which scenes? And also, how long did this practice go on? There is also the fact that the absence of suits in Cleopatra means that Travis Banton designed all of the costumes in the film, why was there no discussion of their clothing in addition to the gowns Banton created for Claudette Colbert?
Overall, though, as someone with very little knowledge of the history of Hollywood costuming, the Friday Night Spotlight is almost like a mini-course in the subject. And a wonderful opportunity to expand my classic film repertoire.
Please share your thoughts below, and be sure to email me any events for the new year you would like to highlight!
Costume for Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett), Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2007. Costume designer Alexandra Bryne.
Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum