Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH

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.

17 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums

17 responses to “Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH

  1. Jacq Staubs

    You are as much if a treasure as this exhibit for sharing it – thank you XO- must read to find out which actress he designed for.

    Like

  2. allisonthrifts

    So fascinating to see the tailoring up close in your photos. Thank you!

    Like

  3. So very interesting–beautiful lines and fascinating accents. I would love to see that exhibit. Thank you.

    Like

  4. You are a sweetheart and this is a gift to read and view. Thank you over and over for this post. I adore this style of suit and this era of clothing. I think obstructions make us more resourceful, and Adrian’s work shows that. It’s a strong silhouette that works well as a canvas for surface design and these suits are just masterful.
    THANK YOU SO!!!!!

    Like

  5. Connie Turner

    Your Adrian jacket fits you perfectly. You look great. thanks for this interesting post.

    Like

  6. It’s crazy that I learned more from your review of our visit than from the people who put on the exhibition.

    Yes, it’s a fashion design museum and a designer’s collection archive. But shouldn’t they be interested in the history and context of what they’re displaying? And shouldn’t they want to share that information with visitors?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if all we get by way of explanation or description at the next exhibit, even after pointing our cellphone at the QR code, is a few hashtags and emoji.

    #olddress 👗

    Like

    • You are correct on so many levels! I hate long, overwrought panels of museum text, but there is a happy medium. Maneuvering through the website while trying to view the clothes is cumbersome.

      From an historical standpoint, I gained little from this exhibition, but looking at the designs I was in Heaven.

      Like

  7. I love Adrian–the geometry of his work, the fabulous detail. Thanks so much for this review. And next time I see you, I hope you are wearing that jacket!

    Like

  8. Christina Mitchell

    Wonderful! Thank you for bringing this exhibition to us. You can absolutely see Adrian’s influences in Azzedine Alaïa’s work.

    Like

  9. Even for a quilter, those piecework jackets are impressive and beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  10. I wonder if the person who designed some of the costumes for the Mockingjay series of movies was an Adrian fan? Those costumes look like they could have been modeled on his suits. Classic fashion though!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.