Category Archives: Museums

Exhibition Journal – Yves Saint Laurent + Halston

Back in February I was lucky to see this exhibition at FIT, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s.  I usually like to take my exhibition journal and do drawings on site, but in some cases that is just not possible.  For this trip I didn’t even take the journal with me, as baggage was tight.  Also, I knew that I could depend on FIT to provide excellent brochures about each exhibition.

I was glad that I had decided not to try and sketch.  I had two friends with me, and sketching takes time.  And there is so much to do in New York and we had so much to see.  But the big reason I decided not to try sketching on site was because the Museum at FIT is always very busy.  People are constantly moving around the exhibits and it is hard for me to concentrate with so much activity.  One gallery has seats which are nice for drawers, but others do not, and I can’t draw standing.

So instead I took lots of photos of the details, planning to do my sketches later.  That didn’t happen though, as I just had so much going on in my head with all the other excitement from the trip.  So I decided to rely on the materials provided by FIT.  Because of that, this journal entry focuses more on what the curators wanted me to take from the exhibition rather than my own observations.  That’s not ideal, but sometimes it just has to be that way.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this exhibition is how time gives a clearer vision as to the zeitgeist of an era.   In the 1970s I don’t think many people would have been able to look at the work of Saint Laurent and of Halston and see how they were both pulling from similar influences.  At the time the differences overshadowed the similarities.

But using that marvelous tool called hindsight, we can step out of the era to see where both designers were influenced by the same things.  It was their approach that was different.

I’ve heard the 1970s referred to as “the decade that taste forgot.”  I think this exhibition can put that line to rest.

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Exhibition Journal: Shanghai Glamour

Click to enlarge

 

These journal pages are from a visit I made to the Museum of Chinese in America two years ago.  In contrast to the exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute that is currently running, China: Through the Looking Glass which examines Chinese influences on Western fashion, Shanghai Glamour showed how Chinese women adapted aspects of Western dress to create a new style of dress in the early twentieth century.

After the end of the Opium War in 1842, the British victors were able to dictate the creation of “trade cities” in China.  These cities were made to tolerate a Western presence and were forced to allow trade with them.  Shanghai was one of the trade cities.  By the twentieth century there were large British, American, and French populations in the city.  It was an increasingly cosmopolitan place.

The exhibition showed how the women of Shanghai created their own distinctive style of dress, which was based on Chinese traditional dress but incorporated elements of the West.  The look was feminine, but modern.

Click to Enlarge

 

There is a lot of discussion about how Western fashion appropriates different cultures, so it was interesting to see how cultural influences flowed the other way. Sometimes we forget that culture often works on an exchange system.

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Exhibition Journal: Fashioning the New Woman, 1890 – 1925

Fashioning the New Woman was an exhibition at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, held the summer of 2013.  From my journal you can see that the items that were of the greatest interest to me were sportswear.  Some of the items, like the gym suit and swimsuit, were fairly common, but others, like the circa 1895 sweater are very rare, even in collections.

Sketching on site is often difficult due to crowds and lack of seating, but the conditions at the DAR were ideal.  Not only was the crowd light, chairs were provided for people who wanted to sketch or to read the booklets that accompanied the exhibition.

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Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede, at the Mint Museum

Halston is having a bit of a moment in the fashion exhibition world.  I wrote earlier about Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70 at the Museum at FIT, and I’ve been looking forward to this show ever since seeing it.  The exhibition was organized by the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh where it was first shown, and over the past year it has traveled to several other cities.  It is currently in Charlotte, NC, at the Mint Uptown, where you can see it until June 14.

The exhibition came about due to the efforts of Halston’s niece, Lesley Frowick.  She approached the Andy Warhol Museum with her idea, and they enthusiastically agreed to co-curate the exhibition with her.  Halston had left much of his archive to Leslie in case she ever wanted to write a book about him, a task she has accomplished.  They were able to pull from her material and that of the museum to find objects to illustrate the relationship the two men shared, and how one’s art influenced that of the other.

I’ve been to the Mint numerous times, but simply put, this is the best exhibition I’ve ever seen there.  The variety of artifacts and the way it was all arranged led to a great learning experience.

The exhibition started with accessories, and how Warhol got his start illustrating shoes and Halston got his making hats.  Interspersed with the drawings, hats, and archival material were Warhol films and Halston fashion show videos.

Courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

Probably the one object that best shows the mutual influence is this silk jersey Halston dress.  The print was based on a series of flowers that Warhol had been silk-screening.  The exhibition had not only the dress, which belongs to the Warhol Museum, but also an assortment of the paintings which were hung nearby.

Collection of Lesley Frowick, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

The Halston clothing came from several sources.  Some of it came from Lesley Frowick’s collection, and those of other family members.  Much of it came from Halston Heritage, the company that owns the Halston label, and which has an archive of Halston clothing.  The evening set above was created in 1983.

In many cases the original Halston sketch, drawn on lined notebook paper would be hung near the actual garment.  Some of the garments were shown with publicity sketches drawn by artist Stephen Sprouse.  And all through the exhibition snippets from Warhol’s famous diary gave meaning to the art and added perspective to the clothing.

Collection of Lesley Frowick, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

I really appreciated the fact that the clothes were accessorized in the most proper way, with Elsa Peretti for Tiffany jewelry.  The blue cashmere pants, sweater, and cape have just the silver and leather Peretti belt to set off the outfit.

Halston for JC Penney Suit, 1983 Collection of Lesley Frowick, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

Much has been made of how the Halston deal with JC Penney’s caused his downfall.  It’s such a shame really.  Some of the JC Penney clothes were on display, and I was surprised at how good they really were.

©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

There were a few Warhol paintings of the mutual friends of the two men.  There was Liza Minnelli, of course, but also Martha Graham.

To kick off the exhibition, Lesley Frowick was in Charlotte to gave a talk and show slides of Halston as a child.  I was lucky enough to attend, as listening to Halston’s niece really put a human face on the designer.  He was not just the famous Halston, he was Uncle Halston, and according to Leslie, he was a really good uncle to have.

As a young woman Leslie moved to New York and her uncle gave her a job and a place to live.  When she had a trip to Paris planned and did not know what to wear, Halston told her to simply send over her luggage and he would handle the rest.  He filled five suitcases with clothes for her, along with sketches showing what to wear with what.

For the talk, Lesley was wearing pieces of her vintage Halston collection, and she looked terrific.

I’ve not been able to find out if this exhibition will continue to travel, so if you are anywhere near Charlotte in the next three months, I strongly recommend this show.  Photos were not permitted due to ownership rights, but the Mint does allow use of photos from their website.

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Exhibition Journal – Katherine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen

This exhibition was at the Kent State University Museum in 2010 ans 2011 after receiving a gift of Katherine Hepburn’s clothing from her estate.  Since then the exhibition has traveled, and it is currently showing at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

In 2007 the Kent State Museum contacted the estate of Katherine Hepburn as they were interested in acquiring her collection of her performance clothes.  The estate administrators agreed that the collection should go to Kent State.  There were almost 700 pieces, most of which were identified, but others that needed research in order to identify in which film or play Hepburn had worn the item.  Many hours were spent watching films and looking through publicity photographs.

There were also items from her personal wardrobe including thirty-one pairs of slacks, many of which were beige or tan.  Many of the clothes were so small that special mannequins had to be carved of foam.  In order to get a clear picture of how the costumes looked, photos of Katherine Hepburn wearing the costumes were shown as posters behind the displays.  The pieces that were on display were the most important and the ones that had, at the time, been identified.

I often take my journal on museum visits if I think the atmosphere might be right for sketching.  Kent State is rarely crowded, but they do not provide a place to sit, so I only did a few drawings.  I know the dress and jodphurs look too long and skinny, but Hepburn was tall, and the waist of her pants measured 20 inches.

I did a review on this exhibition soon after I saw it in 2011.  I don’t know if it will continue to travel, but if it comes to a museum near you, it is well worth a visit.

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Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, at the Museum at FIT

Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, a current exhibition at the Museum at FIT, tells the long history of fashion fakes.  Interestingly, faking started as soon as designer names became known in the 19th century.  Over the past 150 years many attempts have been made to stop fashion fakes, but few of them have been effective.

I did a double-take when I came to the Paul Poiret brown cloak above, sure that I’d seen it before.  Then I remembered; LivedInVintage had posted photos of it on Instagram after finding it.  After people went crazy over it on Instagram, she was able to be in touch with the people at FIT, who purchased and restored it.

You can’t tell from my photo, but the words, “Authorized Reproduction” are on the label at the very top.  In an effort to eliminate the faking of his clothes, Poiret had his label copyrighted.  The rights to legally reproduce designs were sold, but that did not stop the practice of copying.

One thing I loved about this exhibition was how the labels were reproduced for visitors to see.  I’m always wanting to see the labels of things, so this was a real treat.

The dress on the left is an adapted copy of a Madeleine Vionnet dress called the Little Horses.  Vionnet tried to stop counterfeiting by putting her thumbprint on every label, but that was only partially effective.  You can see a photo of the original dress on the screen.  Note how only the top of the dress has the fancy horse design.

The two dresses on the right are by Jeanne Lanvin.  The complicated design of the petaled and scalloped tiers made the dresses hard to copy.

The black evening dress in the center has a Fashion Originator’s Guild of America label.  The guild was formed to fight fakes by registering each member’s designs.  If a design was found that copied a registered design, the guild members would no longer do business with a firm found dealing in the fake.  Unfortunately, the guild had to be disbanded in 1941 when it was found by the FTC to be in violation of trade laws.

And here is what makes an exhibition like this one so great.  They also had the original registration sketch of the black dress on display.

The red dress on the right is a reproduction of a Claire McCardell “Nada” dress.  According to an ad for the original dress, it was “the dress that created a fashion.”  That means that everyone was copying it.

The dress on the left was by American designer Carrie Munn.  While not a fake or a pure copy, Munn’s work was derivative of that of Dior and Balenciaga.

Couturiers often licensed designs to American manufacturers, which created lower cost clothes with designer cache.  I suppose they figured that Americans would buy the fakes anyway, and so they ought to compete with them.  The green and rust gown is by French designer Jean Desses for Raymodes Negligees, circa 1950.

The dress on the right is a Charles James for Samuel Winston dress.  In the early 1950s James licensed designs to Samuel Winston, but he ended up suing the company for using his work and not putting his label in the dresses.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s French designer Jacques Fath did special designs for American manufacturer Joseph Halpert.  The red dress is a beautiful example.  These were not fakes, but were actually designed in the US by Fath.

This Jean Desses coat has an adaptation label.  That means it was inspired by a Desses original, but that changes were made to the design.

The dress on the left is a licensed copy of a Dior dress.  It was made by Mignon, an American company that often made legal copies.  The red coat is a line-for-line copy of a Balenciaga coat.  It was made for Macy’s Little Shops, using the actual Balenciaga as a pattern.

In 1965 Yves Saint Laurent designed his famous Mondrian dresses, which shows that designers not only copy from each other, they also “borrow” from art.  So, which is the Saint Laurent, and which two are copies?

(The one in the center is the Yves Saint Laurent.)

You might think that this Lilly Dache Sally Victor hat was “inspired” by the Yves Saint Laurent dress, but it was actually made in 1962, three years prior to the famous dress.

Today, copying often takes the form of a company “copying”  itself.   Companies like Missoni do this by collaborating with cheaper retailers like Target.  It might be a bit difficult to tell that the “real” Missoni is the one on the left, but seeing these two in person leaves no doubt that there is a huge difference in quality.

There were quite a few Chanel suits, and Chanel-inspired suits in the exhibition, but the most informative display was this authentic Chanel along side an authorized copy.  The Chanel is on the left, and the suit on the right was made by Ohrbach’s Department Store.  The suits seem to be almost identical, with the exception of the extra set of pockets on the Chanel.

Behind the two suit was a slide show that examined the two suits very closely, and then pointed out the differences in construction.  In fifteen slides, one gets an excellent Chanel education.

Of course I loved this exhibition.  The research at FIT is so through, and the presentation is always beautiful.  I do wish that the lighting in this gallery was more like that of the one downstairs.  It is so dark that details cannot be seen in many cases, especially in black and dark garments.  And it would be great to see the backs of the clothes.  The arrangement of the gallery is linear, so there is more of a flat view.  Perhaps mirrors could be employed.

At The Museum at FIT in New York, through April 25, 2015

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Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s at the Museum at FIT

One of the highlights of any visit to New York is a visit to the Museum at FIT.  This past trip was no exception with the two shows they had going being not only beautiful, but thought-provoking.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s is the first exhibition that has ever focused just on these two giants of the 1970s.  I came of age in the 1970s, and I’ve been well-acquainted with the work of both designers for over 45 years.    But it was a revelation seeing their work side by side.  It seems that the clean modernist (Halston) and the romantic historian (YSL) had a lot more in common than is at first apparent.

Because the museum’s holding of both designers is extensive, there was a lot of material for the curators to work with.  They were able to look at the clothes with an eye for how each interpreted a certain theme.  This approach reveals not only how the two designers were different, it also points out some startling likenesses.

One of the games that people are playing with this exhibition is “Guess Who?”  Instead of immediately reading the notes on each garment, people were trying to guess which was the YSL and which the Halston.  It was a fun exercise, though in most cases there were little details that gave the answer away if one was fairly familiar with both designers’ work.  In the top photo, the ensemble on the left is by Halston, and the one on the right is Saint Laurent.

Can you guess which is the Halston and which is the YSL?  It probably would help to know that Halston worked mainly in solid colors, so the dress on the right is his.

Can you see the tiny hems on these layers of chiffon?  The workmanship that came out of Halston’s workrooms really astounded me.  Someone described Halston’s designs as simple clothes that were expensive.  Add to that description that they were made from top quality fabrics by highly skilled sewers.

One of the themes that the exhibition explored was how each designer was influenced by menswear.  Much has been written of Yves Saint Laurent’s appropriation of menswear, especially in the famous Le Smoking, or tuxedo suit for women.  He also did tailored suits in the style of 1930s or 40s men’s suits, seen above in blue pinstripes.

Halston’s use of menswear was much more subtle, but no less influential.  In his hands the man’s shirt was elongated and narrowed into a flattering shirtdress.

Another theme of the exhibition was how each designer used the “exotic” in their designs.  This was quite easy to see in the work of YSL, as he was known for using all kinds of cultural influences in his work.  Whole collections were designed around Russia or China.  In his hands the word “peasant” took on a whole new meaning.

Halston’s use of the exotic often was expressed in the form of caftans and pajama set with capes.  These great tie-dyed pajamas date from 1970, and the red caftan is from 1972.  The set on the left and the caftan are from the wardrobe of Lauren Bacall, who donated 700 items to FIT while she was still alive.

And finally, the exhibition looked at how both designers used historical references in their work.  Again, Saint Laurent was much more literal in his use of historic fashion.  His clothes often contain references to the work of Chanel, and he was especially fond of paying homage to the 1930s and early 40s.

Halston paid his respects to the past in his use of the bias cut in the manner of Vionnet.

And in his hands the cashmere twin set of the 1950s became luxurious (and warm) evening wear.

In taking in this exhibition, and I had to see it twice, I was struck at how my own sense of style was shaped by these two designers.  I was fifteen in 1970, and so these were the years that I was really into fashion.  Many of the shapes and designs in the exhibition have been in my own closet through the years, and I still love a fitted sweater over slacks and a good bomber jacket.

In the late 1970s I made a dress that was very similar to the Halston on the left (are those Warhol flowers?) to wear to work, and I would have worn the YSL on the right as well, given the chance.  I still have a shirtdress in my closet, and I’m seriously thinking of making one in gingham.  Hey, if it was good enough for Lauren Bacall, why not?

This exhibition is in the basement gallery, which I love.  The display space is large and is arranged in a non-linear way so that rambling and contemplation is encouraged.  The clothes are arranged so that most of them can be seen from more than one angle.  In the hallway there is a timeline of the careers of both designers.  It is very helpful in tying it all together, and as a special treat, it’s online.

And I want to say a special thanks to the museum for allowing photos.  This is the first time I’ve ever been to an exhibition there where photos were allowed.  I hope it leads to a loosening of the no-photo policy.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s was organized and curated by Patricia Mears and Emma McClendon.  It is open until April 18, 2015.

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