Category Archives: Museums

Exhibition Journal: Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

While not technically not a fashion exhibition, this show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 2013 is one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve said before that it you want to really understand the fashions of the Teens and Twenties, you have to look at the work that was done by the costumers and set designers of the Ballets Russes.  Scheherazade,first performed by the Ballets Russes in 1910 that set off a fad for Orientalism in fashion that lasted into the 1920s.  Even the great couturier Paul Poiret was influenced by the movement, even though he downplayed it in his autobiography.

So much of the beauty of the Ballet Russes costumes is in the attention to detail.  In my journal I made a border of the ones I found to be the most interesting, and in the center, on a piece of translucent paper, I drew Sonia Delaunay’s magnificent costume for the 1918 production of Cleopatra.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Journal, Museums, Uncategorized

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.

9 Comments

Filed under Journal, Museums

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Journal, Museums

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Journal, Museums

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.

11 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums

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.

11 Comments

Filed under Journal, Museums

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

19 Comments

Filed under Museums