Having SCAD FASH in Atlanta makes me happy. I mean, really, really, happy. Who wouldn’t be happy standing in front of a line of suits by Gilbert Adrian? And this new exhibition, Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut, gave me a chance to actually wear the jacket from my Adrian suit and to spend time with my friend Liza.
Because I’m such a chronologically minded person, I’ll show off the Adrian garments first. After years of designing costumes at M-G-M Studios in Hollywood, in 1942 Adrian went into business for himself, making the types of clothes he had been designing for the stars – glamorous gowns and structured suits. Because of poor health, Adrian was in business for only ten years.
And while fashion changed dramatically after 1947, Adrian pretty much kept making the clothes he knew made women look beautiful, softening the strong shoulder of the 1940s only slightly. Because of this, unless a garment was pictured in period advertising or magazine copy, Adrian’s clothes can be difficult to date. The exhibition side-stepped this problem by dating all the Adrian garments 1942 – 1952.
All the clothes in this exhibition come from Association Azzedine Alaïa, the organization that holds Alaïa’s archive. Not only does the archive have many of Alaïa’s garments, but also thousands of items that Alaïa collected, including vintage clothing. The Association holds more than three hundred Adrian garments that had been collected by Alaïa.
An interesting side note to the story comes from California Couture, by Maureen Reilly. In writing about Adrian for her book, Reilly interviewed former high school teacher Joe Simms. In his teaching job in Philadelphia in the 1970s, Simms used the example of Adrian (and his unwillingness to conform to the New Look) to illustrate to the kids how fashion was always a subject of debate. The class took the topic a step further, and soon the school had a collection of donated Adrian garments, sketches, and fabrics. When Simms retired he had to find homes for the garments, and they ended up in various museums. In 1988 Simms was approached by Alaïa who purchased most of the Simms collection. I can’t help but wonder how many of the suits on display at SCAD FASH were once studied by Simm’s students.
The Adrian suits illustrated perfectly the title of the exhibition, as Adrian was truly a master of cut and tailoring.
These two jackets show one of the techniques for which Adrian was known – the making and shaping of jackets though piecework.
One indication of the era of manufacture was that Adrian had to stick to the wartime L-85 regulations. This includes that there could be no patch pockets, no sleeve cuffs, and the jackets could not be longer than 25″ long. I’ve read that during the war years Adrian used a lot of tie closures because metal findings were scarce.
Another collection has this same suit, but I can’t recall where. I do, however, remember the suit. Who could forget it?
Adrian also made coats, though they are not as common as his suits. At first glance this coat looks new, but the worn condition of the velvet collar shows it was well-loved by a former owner.
Adrian did make some concessions to fashion, as can be seen in the slightly softer shoulders and longer skirt length of this postwar jacket.
I had never realized that Adrian was such a user of buttons until seeing all these examples together. These are little money bags. Was he influenced by Schiaparelli’s use of whimsical buttons?
This suit is a good example of a postwar design. Both the jacket and skirt are longer, and the drape on the shoulder extends into a flowing scarf on the back. There are metal buttons and a patch pocket.
And speaking of buttons, these are little mice!
I found the suit on the right to be interesting because my friends at Style and Salvage have a coat with a red slash across the top of the bodice in the manner of the white slash on this jacket. Could they be from the same collection?
I can imagine that working in the tailoring department of Adrian was a bit like working jigsaw puzzles all day long.
Notice how the diagonal slash on the sleeve is repeated on the body of the coat. You see this repetition a lot in Adrian’s designs.
Adrian also liked self fringe, and he was fond of textiles from designer Pola Stout. There was no indication this is a Stout fabric, but my guess is that it is.
You may have noticed the lack of bright colors. Even on his evening gowns, Adrian preferred to use muted colors.
Even when the buttons were plain plastic, Adrian made them important to the design.
I actually found this jacket in a 1950 The Californian magazine. The curve of the collar is repeated on the pocket, the sleeve trim, and the bottom of the jacket.
As sort of an afterthought, three Adrian gowns were also on display in the gift shop.
I especially liked the print example, as it shows the other side of Adrian. He was known for designing his own fabrics, though I don’t think this is one of them. He went in for big, graphic motifs.
It was a real treat seeing so much of Adrian’s work together, and especially in conjunction with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, which I’ll show and talk about in my next post. As always, I have a few other words to say about the exhibition.
First, most of the Azzedine Alaïa pieces were positioned so that one could get a look at the back of each garment, but the Adrian pieces were lined up in a row against the wall. There was no way to see the backs of the suits. Mirrors would have been nice, but even better, the garments could be pulled away from the wall so visitors could walk behind them. The SCAD FASH exhibition area had plenty of room to do this, so it’s puzzling why they chose to limit the view of the backs of the suits.
Second, (and I know that I am bringing my own agenda into play here) I would have liked more historic context. SCAD FASH is a design museum, not a fashion history one, but there was little information about Adrian available except through the student docents and the website. In order to know about the clothes on display, you must use the provided tablets or the website on your cell phone. And the docents are there to show more and to engage in conversation about the exhibition.
I have found the student docents always to be charming, enthusiastic, and engaged, and this visit was no exception.
This exhibition in on view through September 13, 2020, and I highly recommend it. Just do a little homework first, as they are not going to spoon feed the biography of Adrian nor that of Azzedine Alaïa. But you will get an excellent look at how the designs of Adrian influenced those of Alaïa. It’s a lesson you do not want to miss.
Next post: Azzedine Alaïa.