High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum

I spent a lot of time this past spring and early summer looking at the Instagrams of people in San Francisco and being really jealous.  That’s because they were torturing me with their fantastic photos from a traveling exhibition from the Met’s Costume Institute, High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.  So I was delighted to hear that the last showing was to be in Cincinnati, which is only a five hour drive from me.

We decided to wait for a good weekend weather-wise, and that gift came earlier than expected.  Last week we loaded the car and headed north to take in the exhibition, and to explore Cincinnati, a city we’d never before visited.  I’m not going to beat around the bush.  If you are anywhere near Cincinnati before January 24, 2016, when the show closes for good, you must see this exhibition.

This is especially true if you did not have the opportunity to see the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion show last year.  Much of the James material, including some amazing computer deconstructions of the clothing on exhibit is included in this show.  I’ll tell more about that in part two of this review.

The exhibition covers the 20th century, and includes both fashion from Europe and the United States.  Above is the back of a Jeanne Lanvin silver lamé dress, summer 1923.  Many of the garments were arranged so that the front was on view, and then you turned a corner to see the back.  To me the back of this dress was the most interesting, with the obi-like train and its (barely visible) Lanvin blue lining.  The embroidery was made with very thin ribbons.

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Here are what are probably my favorites in the entire show.   The two capes or wraps are from Liberty & Co. of London, and they are effectively displayed over Fortuny dresses.  Both capes are silk brocade, woven in a peacock feather pattern, a design by Liberty textile designer Arthur Silver.

To the right you get a glimpse of two Callot Soeurs ensembles, both made for Rita de Costa Lydig circa 1913.  Lydig was a collector of antique lace which Callot Soeurs used in their work for her.  Note that the “dresses” under the lace vest and tunic are actually pants.

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In the center are two 1920s dresses.  The lace dress is from Jeanne Lanvin, 1925.  The red is from the lesser-known Suzanne Talbot, but it is a real stunner.  Also from 1925, it is made from one long length of silk.

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The simple frock on the left is from Jean Patou.  Patou was known for his sports clothes, and was very influential in establishing the sporty look of the 1920s.  The middle evening dress was not attributed, but proves that a dress need not have a label in order to be fabulous.  The beaded and embroidered dress on the right is from designer Edward Molyneux, 1925.

And just in case you were wondering why I included a photo of the Patou, here’s a close-up of the details.  It is a not-so-simple, simple little frock.

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Both of these dresses are by Elsa Schiaparelli, who was well-represented in the exhibition.  That is a very good thing, as Schiaparelli garments are rarely seen, so it was a real treat to see not only the dresses, but also some of her surrealist jewelry.  The butterfly dress and parasol date from 1937. The blue dress is actually appliqued using cut-outs from a fabric printed with seed packets, one of which forms a pocket.  There is an exposed zipper in the back, a common Schiap treatment, one that  has been repeated in recent years.

One of the real stars of the show (no pun, seriously!) was this Schiaparelli jacket from her 1938 Zodiac collection.  The embroidery was by Lesage, the Rolls Royce of French embroiderers.  Simply amazing.

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The lovely Grecian creation on the left is from Hungarian-American designer Eta Hentz.  Manufacturing under the name Ren-Eta Gowns, it’s a bit hard to imagine that this dress was ready-to-wear.  1944.

One the right is one of the many Elizabeth Hawes dresses that was in the Brooklyn Museum collection.  When the collection was taken to the Met in 2009, many of the Hawes pieces were deacquisitioned and sent to auction,a move I did not understand considering the rarity of Hawes pieces.  But it is obvious they kept the masterworks if this dress is an example.  Look closely to see that there is gold piping between the pieces that shape the waist, and the shaping continues to the back where the pieces seem to ripple like a waterfall to the hem.  It is a stunning dress.

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The dark pink dress (and jacket)  is from Madeleine Vionnet, circa 1935.  It is, of course, made from a bias-cut silk.  The black dress is also by Vionnet.

The white evening dress is from Madame Alix Gres, 1937.  It’s construction is interesting, as each half (left and right) is actually just one long length of uncut fabric that goes from the hem in front, is folded to form the peplum, across the shoulder, folded again, and then to the hem.

The copper dress is also from Madame Gres, and is maybe the oddest Gres I’ve ever seen.  Still, there is plenty of her trademark pleating and volume.

I’ll continue my tour of High Style in my next post.  I want to finish this one by saying what a great job the Met and the Cincinnati Art Museum have done in making this exhibition such a great experience.  The exhibition space was spread out in such a way that one could view the clothes without feeling crowded or rushed.  Most of the clothes were not behind glass, and so it let the visitors get really close to examine the details.  It was simply a great fashion history experience.

16 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums

16 responses to “High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum

  1. As a Vionnet obsessive, I took myself and my sister to San Francisco last spring to see this show. I wish I had taken more photos of the shoes, as they weren’t in the catalog (kids, read the book first so you can focus your lens on the stuff you loved that they missed). I have a new favorite from that show pretty much every day, the flower seed packet dress is today’s. Such riches! Thanks for another view!

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  2. In Sept ’14 I saw a 50 year retrospective at the Musee de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (Paris Fashion Museum). I nearly passed out about 10 times from the sheer beauty of it all. This show reminds me of that one, except, of course, there were no American designers in the show. Other Europeans, though. I was so amazed that for the first time ever I whipped out a notepad and started sketching my favorites. I’ve looked at my lame little pencil sketches many times since to recall the beautiful fabrics, tailoring, draping and the incredible talent and imagination of couture. (where are women designers in high fashion now???)

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    • Seeing this exhibition really points out how influential the women designers of the 20th century were, and at the same time brings the lack of opportunities for women in fashion today to the forefront. There was an article recently about how in all the thousands of words speculating who was going to take over at Dior, and Lanvin, and Balenciaga, not a single female designer has been seriously discussed for any of the jobs.

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  3. Lovely! Thanks for the beautiful pictures.

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  4. Mary Beth Pfaff

    Absolutely beautiful clothing! Compare these classics to the trashy looking outfits celebrities and models wear today.

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  5. So happy to agree wholeheartedly with Beth…the Moon/Sun/Stars jacket is incredible! Where is the talent today – much less the element of sophistication required to appreciate/ value the true art form required to design beautiful/sensible yet elegant fashion!? I guess I just answered myself! You MUST have the client and they (for the most part) are gone! Thank YOU for sharing.

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  6. Thank you Lizzie, for wonderful photos and helpful commentary. You put a bee in my bonnet to motor to Cincinnati.

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  7. Christina

    Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: High Style, by Jan Glier Reeder | The Vintage Traveler

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