Category Archives: Museums

Fashion and Technology at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Because the topic of the symposium was Fashion and Technology, and the Cincinnati Art Museum was a sponsor of the symposium, I’d guess that it’s not a coincidence that the museum had an exhibition also titled Fashion and Technology. I think that we most often think of LED lighting and 3-D printing and smart chips embedded in clothing when confronted with the idea of technology in fashion, but we need to remember that technological advances in clothing date back to the fig leaf.

This small but well-curated exhibition covers roughly one hundred years, starting in 1780. The dress above shows a very old method of making printed fabrics – that of using hand-carved blocks that were used to hand print the design. It was effective, and made beautiful designs, but the process was very slow. Multiple blocks had to be used, one for each color in the design.

A big step forward came around 1800 in the form of roller printing, in which mechanized rollers were used to print onto the fabric. There was a similar process, using cylinders to mechanically apply the dye. The fabric used to make this circa 1830 dress was most likely printed using a combination of the two processes.

This circa 1850 dress helps illustrate the advances made in dye production. Synthetic dyes were developed in the late 1850s, and before that time, dyes were made from natural materials with a mordant added to help set the color. The plaid in this dress was produced by dyeing the threads different colors, and then setting up the loom to produce the pattern.

The creation of mauveine, the first practical synthetic dye, in 1856 brought spectacular colors to fashion. This circa 1863 dress has synthetic purple trimming, and the little flowers in the print are mauveine.

Another technological advance seen in this dress is the use of machine-made lace.

As a side note, like many dresses of this period, this one has two bodices. The second bodice is in storage, and we were able to see it on our tour of the storage area.

Here we have two dresses of roughly the same era, The dress on the left is by Paris couturier Jacques Doucet and dates to around 1888. Even though machine made lace was common by that date, this dress is embellished with handmade lace. Maybe the woman for whom this dress was made wanted to incorporate a piece of heirloom lace, or may she just wanted to show off her wealth.

The dress on the right is from a few years earlier, but here the couturiers, Moret et Moncuit, used machine made lace. Because machine made lace was less expensive than the handmade variety, more of it could be used to embellish a gown.

I’m guilty of looking at a pre-twentieth century garment and only seeing the design. Fashion and Technology shows us there is so much more to see.

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Cincinnati Art Museum – Behind the Scenes in the Costume Collection

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the Costume Society of America’s Midwest Region annual symposium. I usually try to go to the Southeast Region’s meeting, but this year I had a conflict with the date, so when I learned of the Midwest’s meeting in Cincinnati I made plans to go. Especially enticing was the promise of a behind the scenes tour of the historic clothing collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Over the next few days I’ll be writing a lot about the symposium and the fun I had. But more importantly, sprinkled throughout my posts will be snippets of the types of learning experiences that make CSA meetings so valuable to an amateur like me. Not that I was ever made to feel like a non-professional, as this was one of the friendliest and most accepting of groups I’ve ever encountered.

One of the sponsors of the symposium was the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the coordinators were Cynthia Amnéus, curator of clothing and textiles at the museum, and Adam MacPharlain, curatorial assistant in the department.  They did a great job of giving attendees a look inside the museum’s outstanding costume collection.

Above is Amnéus, who led us through a selection of items she had pulled from the collection. First up was this Tina Leser jumpsuit, dated roughly to the 1960s. The museum has been trying to pin down a firmer date, so if you have ever seen this garment in an ad, they would love to hear from you. It just goes to show that even the experts can use a little help from time to time.

Look carefully to see how the front opening to the jumpsuit zig-zags. And on the back were two more buttons, which had been replaced at sometime in the jumpsuit’s life with red buttons. The museum was able to have copies of the originals made to restore it to the original look.

Here’s a real treasure – a mid 1920s wool tweed Chanel. A lot is written about how Chanel took the fabrics associated with the clothing of her lovers and translated them into fashion for women, but a tweed Chanel of that early era is something I’d never seen.

In reply to a question about the construction, Cynthia gave us a peek inside, to see how the dress was not lined, and the workings of the bound buttonholes were left exposed.

The museum has a good and still growing collection of modern Japanese designers. This is an early Issey Miyake.

And here are three of the Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons in the collection.

This beautiful gown was made by Ann Lowe, the African American dress designer who made Jacqueline Bouvier’s dress for her wedding to John Kennedy. The dress, along with another from the same woman’s wardrobe, is unlabeled, but the donor, the son of the woman who commissioned the dress, said that Lowe was the maker of both. We all know that sometimes family stories get the facts wrong, so the dress was “attributed to Ann Lowe” until another dress, similar in style and make to the second dress and which did have the Ann Lowe label was donated to the museum. From studying the three dresses, it was confirmed that all were made in the same shop.

And here is the labeled dress that helped confirm that the others were actually designed and made by Ann Lowe.

The Cincinnati Art Museum has been collecting fashion and textiles ever since its founding in 1881. Consequently, there are many items from the oldest families in the region. And while there were many garments collected through the years, there was not a costume curator until the 1960s. The old collection card describes this garment as a corset cover, but (and do correct me if I’m wrong) this sure looks like a corset to me. It was added to the collection in 1958 and without a curator of clothing, mistakes were surely made.

Isn’t it lovely? According to the card. “Tan sateen corset cover embroidered with flowers, made by Sadelia Sweet ( Mrs. Levi A. Knight) of Madisonville, Ohio, before 1860.”

We were also shown a man’s garment, this circa 1770 man’s suit from France.

Click to enlarge

I always marvel at this type suit, and the embroidery on this one is exceptional.

Have you noticed the closed white cabinets in the background of my photos? These are actually rolling storage racks that unlock and open, but then close tightly against each other in order to conserve space. After looking at the selected garments, Adam opened up the racks to give us a glimpse in at the 18th and 19th centuries.

This is only a small section of one of the opened racks. There were also garments hanging on the right side as well.

Click to enlarge

I didn’t count the racks, but there were quite a few, with the antique dresses arranged chronologically, and the more modern clothing arranged alphabetically according to the designer.

And a big thanks to the Cincinnati Art Museum for hosting this tour.

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 2

Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929, and she continued to travel there to paint every summer until her husband, Albert Stieglitz, died in 1946. After settling his affairs in New York, she moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949, returning to the city only for visits.  It’s during her time in New Mexico that I tend to think of her, seeing as how I can remember her in television interviews (60 Minutes?) that she gave from her homes in the desert.

After O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico, changes began to occur in her wardrobe. All of the existing early clothing is either black or white, but in the desert, color began to creep into her closet.  Not wild, bright color, mind you; but colors of the earth and the sky.

Another change is that few of her garments from this later period are home sewn. It could be that she was too busy painting and running the two homes in NM. Or perhaps she was simply able to find suitable clothing for her lifestyle.  One example of this was a fondness for Marimekko. There are four Marimekko dresses (including the one above) existing today in the collection. They are more muted colors like gray and brown and black and green. These dresses have the early 1960s Design Research label as well as the Marimekko one, so they must have come from the Design Research store, either in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in New York.

Here’s another view of the striped Marimekko, along with another one in the middle. The dress in front is from Claire McCardell.  O’Keeffe must have liked this dress, as she had a copy made in blue.  There is another McCardell dress in the collection, though it is speculated to have been a gift, as it does not look like the other garments O’Keeffe choose for herself during this period (little flowers and stripes…)

It was at her desert homes that O’Keeffe also took to wearing rugged workwear. There were several denim shirts, plus that great gingham one that was a gift from a friend. She wore jeans, and there is an early pair of Levis for women in the collection.  She also liked Keds and BF Goodrich sneakers.

It’s hard to tell, but in the photo of O’Keeffe (taken by Don Worth, 1958) she is wearing the same dress and jacket as in my photo from the exhibition.  The jacket is a French worker’s jacket. The dress appears to be made from a sari fabric, as the purple parts and the red have the same weave pattern. It is possible that this one was made by O’Keeffe, or it could have been made by one of the local dressmakers who came to make her clothes in the later years of her life.

I really hated not being able to get a better look at this dress, though I can see why the exhibition designer wanted to show it as it was worn in the archival photograph. There is an excellent photo of the dress in the accompanying book.

Here was a surprise – this dress was from Emilio Pucci, 1954. What made this so interesting is how right next to the dress was this work by O’Keeffe:

This work by O’Keeffe, In the Patio IX, was painted around 1964.

And this was one of the real strengths of this exhibition. It clearly showed how O’Keeffe’s aesthetic was her life – in her clothing, in her surroundings, and in her art.

When you have good friends, you get really great gifts. Actually it’s not clear whether or not this was a gift, or if O’Keeffe commissioned it.  You may recognize it as the work of Alexander Calder.  Later, O’Keeffe had this piece copied by a craftsperson in India. She was always having the things she loved best reproduced.

There are many photos of O’Keeffe and her Calder pin. In this photo by Bruce Weber, 1980, she is also wearing what must have been a favorite belt, made by Mexican artisan Hector Aguilar, circa 195o. It is in many of her photos.

Click for a better view of the shoes.

Beginning around 1960, O’Keeffe began to make the wrap dress one of the key parts of her wardrobe. In her closet were twenty of them, all pretty much of the same design. One has a Neiman Marcus Model’s smock label, and another one is labeled Sidran, Dallas. The others are copies made by her dressmaker in Santa Fe.

The shoes are also in multiples, the ones on the left being by Ferragamo, and the ones on the right a design labeled Saks.  There are eight pairs of the Ferragamos, and to my delight, the ones on display were arranged so that the labels could be read. One pair has the older “Creations Ferragamo” label, and the others, a label, “Salvatore Ferragamo” that dates from the late 1950s. It is apparent that she bought these shoes over a long period of time.

This blue pair is a bit different from the others, which have a little leather tie. These must have been reserved for special wear, as they show much less wear that the others. Or maybe she decided they were not to her taste.

Starting in the 1950s, O’Keeffe did quite a bit of traveling. She brought back textiles and had clothing made for her in Hong Kong. She also shopped in Santa Fe for kimono and other Asian textile objects.

This silk suit was made for O’Keeffe in the late 1950s in Hong Kong.

You can see that O’Keeffe never gave up her beloved black. Most of the formal portraits she posed for continued to show her in black. This suit was probably acquired in Spain, as it has the Eisa label – the label Balenciaga used in his home country.

The hood on the right is unlabeled, but O’Keeffe is shown wearing it in a series of photos taken in 1952.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will be at Reynolda House until November 19, 2017. It then travels to Salem, MA, where it opens on December 16, 2017 at the Peabody Essex Museum.  If you can’t make it to either location, but are a big fan of O’Keeffe, I do recommend the accompanying book, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern by curator Wanda Corn. The book adds another dimension to the story, with views inside O’Keeffe’s New Mexico homes.

And finally, a big thank you to Reynolda House for bringing this fabulous show to North Carolina.

 

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 1

I wasn’t too disappointed about not having a trip to New York City planned for this summer until I read about Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. I even gave some serious thought to forgetting about our trip to Chicago, and instead, planning to head to NYC. But as it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, as I discovered that the exhibition would be traveling to Winston-Salem, NC, a mere two and a half hours’ drive from my home.

There’s so much to show and to say that I’ll be dividing this exhibition review into two, and maybe even three parts. O’Keeffe’s life is well-documented, so I’ll keep the biographical information to a minimum. It won’t be so much her art and life that I’m writing about, so much as the way she lived her life. And that was in a very modern way.

For a while, O’Keeffe worked as an art teacher, and she sometimes did illustration work for Vanity Fair magazine. It is thought that the fashionable work above was used by her as an example in her classroom. It’s very much a work of it’s time, 1916-1917, but I’d never have guessed it was by O’Keeffe.

After a time teaching in Texas, O’Keeffe moved to New York, and the first group of garments in the exhibition date to her time in the city. Several themes are shown. O’Keeffe was consistent in the details she liked in her clothing. She followed fashion in her own way. She loved black and white, and often wore a combination of the two to produce a desired effect. She and her photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, carefully crafted her image using her clothing.

Take the dress above. It is one of the garments in the exhibition that has been attributed to O’Keeffe. She was, like many women of her time, an accomplished needlewoman. Many of her clothes from her years in New York are thought to have been made by her. You can tell that this dress dates to the 1920s, even though it might not be considered the height of fashion. She loved ties, and here you can see them at the neck and the wrists. And this dress is in a shade of white.

There were four dresses in the same shade of creme. The one you get the best look of is dated to 1937, but it looks  earlier to me, maybe early 30s. But regardless, it shows O’Keeffe’s commitment to the color over a period of years. All the dresses are made of silk, and all seem to be expertly home-sewn. It is possible that O’Keeffe made all these dresses.

Because there is such a good photographic record of O’Keeffe’s life, the many photos of her were used to help date the garments, especially the later ones.

It’s regrettable that my photo is so poor. My “real” camera malfunctioned, with the flash stuck in the on position, so I had to rely on cell photos. Still, I hope you can appreciate this grouping of the other main color in O’Keeffe’s early wardrobe – black.

The cape on the left has a label, Zoe de Salle, who, it seems, specialized in capes. Is it the same cape as in the iconic photo used in the exhibition promotion (the one at the top of my post)? No, as that photo was taken by Stieglitz in the early 1920s, and Zoe de Salle’s salon dates from 1936. Still, it’s a look she turned to on many occasions.

The dress on the right was probably made by O’Keeffe in the 1930s. Of interest is the white tie at the neck and the white cuffs. And although this dress looks like it has a fitted waist, what you are seeing is actually a cummerbund.  O’Keeffe was photographed wearing this dress for years. A favorite, perhaps? From the archival photographs, it looks like she had two versions of this dress, in wool and in silk. It appears that she loved vertical pleats and tucks.

This 1920s coat also appears to be made by a dressmaker, though the quality is not as high as some of the other garments. Still, you can see touches of O’Keeffe’s style in contrasting white on black collar.

These three white blouses are also in the “attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe” category. Stylistically, they date to the 1930s. The one on the right is the plainest, being made like a shirt, from silk. The other two are a bit more interesting to ponder.

click to enlarge

Can you see all the pintucks? If not, be sure to enlarge the photo, because they are an important feature in this 1930s blouse. The tucks are quite finely executed, and the question has been brought up (on Facebook), was it possible for a hobbyist sewer like O’Keeffe to execute such a difficult design, with the tucks providing all the shaping of the blouse?

Click

And what about this one, with the complicated crossing of pintucks, and the faggotting between that panel and the small ruffles? Would a busy artist have the time to devote to such a time-intensive sewing project?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but do note that the blouses have elements that put them squarely in O’Keeffe’s style, with the tie at the neck and the vertical lines of the pintucks. Consistency of style is one of the hallmarks of O’Keeffe’s clothing. When she found what she liked, such as a little tie at the neck, she stuck with it and adapted it to fit the fashion of the day.

Starting in the late 1920s O’Keeffe had been spending her summers in New Mexico. Stieglitz died in 1946, and O’Keeffe moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. Over the years she had painted New York many times, and the painting above, of the Brooklyn Bridge, was her last. It’s full of symbolism, with the dark of the bridge representing the city, and the blue sky New Mexico. As a final nod to Stieglitz, there is a heart in the center.

Next, O’Keeffe in the desert.

 

 

 

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Reynolda House Costume Collection

When I first started documenting my visits to costume collections and exhibitions in 2003, the first place I visited was the Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. Reynolda was built by the RJ Reynolds family, who had made a fortune in tobacco. RJ’s wife, Katherine Smith Reynolds, was actually the driving force behind Reynolda. She bought the land as a working farm and later planned a sixty room house for the family.

Before falling in love with Katherine (who was his personal secretary, second cousin, and 30 years younger than he) RJ had long been Winston-Salem’s most eligible bachelor. Katherine was a good example of the “New Woman” of the turn of the 20th century. She was educated, earning a degree in English in 1902. She taught for a while, and then went to work for RJ Reynolds. In February, 1905, the two were married.

Reynolda House stayed within the family until 1964, when the estate was incorporated as a nonprofit dedicated to art and education. In 1967 the house was opened as a museum of American art. The Reynolds family had not been big collectors of art, but it was a good time to be buying art and the collection was able to grow.

In 1972 many articles of clothing belonging to the Reynolds family were found stored away in the attic of the house. After conservation, the clothing collection was put on display in the attic, where special cases were built. Because most of the original wearers of the clothes were then deceased, the curators used family stories, photographic evidence, and the house archives to figure out who wore each item. Some are still not entirely attributed.

The dress above is an example. It was most likely worn by Katherine Smith before her marriage. The style is very much what a young woman would have worn around the time she graduated from college in 1902.

According to family interviews taken when the clothes were found, Katherine was an accomplished seamstress. Even though she came from a privileged background, it is likely that fancy hand sewing was part of her education. This negligee was said to have been made by her for her honeymoon.

Her wedding suit still exists, but I’ve only seen photos of it. Some of the articles are too fragile to display, or it could be that I’ve just missed it as the clothes are rotated from time to time. Again, family tradition holds that she made her suit, but she would have to have been a real expert as it is quite elaborate.

For their honeymoon, RJ and Katherine did what rich people usually did – they went on a tour of Europe. While in Paris, Katherine commissioned two gowns from the couture house, Compagnie Lyonnaise. The one here is made from crepe de Chine, and is decorated with multiple lace medallions, silk embroidery, and tiny buttons.

All those ovals are inset lace, and I wish you could better see the embroidery. Quite nice!

Here’s a very fancy sleeve, and a tiny taste of the back detail.

The couple first lived in Winston-Salem, but in 1912 Katherine’s house in the country was begun. It was finally finished in 1917, but unfortunately, by that time RJ was seriously ill. He died in 1918, having lived in the new house for only a few months. Katherine and their four children remained at the house. She quietly remarried in 1921, the groom being the principal of the estate’s school, and a much younger man.

This dress belonged to Katherine, and was made for her by New York dressmakers, Frances and Co, around 1922.

Without a doubt, this cape is my favorite of the pieces currently on display. It from Paris design house, Boué Soeurs, who were known for their use of constructed flower ornamentation.

I love how the tie ends are pulled through the wreath of fabric flowers.

Sad to say, but Katherine died in 1924, after giving birth at the age of 44. The four Reynolds children were put under the trust of relatives and continued to live at Reynolda. I didn’t take photos, but one section of the attic is devoted to their toys.

There are also some clothes that belonged to Katherine’s daughters.  This stunning gown and mantle was made by New York designer Jesse Franklin Turner for Mary Reynolds Babcock. The dress is a rich satin, and the mantle is velvet. There is a 1937 portrait of Mary wearing this dress on the Reynolda website.

This Hattie Carnegie gown with matching jacket was worn by Katherine’s daughter Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley. It dates to the mid 1950s.

Horrible photo, but you get the idea, right?

The attic also contains lots of hats and accessories. These were probably worn by Katherine. Note the transparency of the lace hat on the left. So beautiful!

There are also some very nice hats from the 1930s and 40s that belonged to the Reynolds daughters.

I first visited Reynolda House in 1971 while on a class trip to see the historical highlights of the state. The clothes had not yet been found, but I remember so much from that first visit. Since then I’ve been back several times, and each visit brings new discoveries. Even without that lovely attic, the house is worth a visit. There is the best miniature Calder mobile, and one of my favorite Grant Wood paintings, and the most exquisite Maurice Prendergast painting.

And to make it even better, right now they have a special exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. Because I was going anyway to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show, I requested permission to take photos in the attic and was thrilled when I was granted permission.  So this is a rare glimpse of a truly stunning collection. My thanks to the publicity office at Reynolda.

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Batik Textiles of Java at the Art Institute of Chicago

For my last post about the museums in Chicago, I want to show you what to me was a revelation. Being a teenager in the 1960s and 70s, I thought I knew batik, that ubiquitous dorm room decorator fabric. It was cotton with designs painted in hot wax to make a resist, then dipped in indigo. So I was not prepared for the range of colors and designs on exhibit in the textile galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The process of dying batik is not terribly old, dating only to the early 19th century. It was developed on the island of Java, located in Indonesia, and used in traditional Javanese garments.

Because this was so new to me, my time spent looking at the batiks was one more of discovery than of learning, and my post will be pretty much the same – a visual introduction to some of the most beautiful fabrics I’ve seen in a while.

The fabric above was dyed in the early 20th century by Eliza van Zuylen. It was fashioned into a sarong, which is still intact.

These pieces are huge, as they were intended to wrap the body. This piece is a ceremonial hip wrap called a dodot.

The closeup shows that this is a forest scene, with all the universe of Java.

This stunning hip wrapper was made in the early 20th century.

This sarong was one of my favorites. Made around 1930, this piece is unusual in that it was stamped using a copper plate, rather than drawn by hand. The printing process was developed in order to speed up the production time, but it also meant a drop in the quality of the design.

The topic is that of a moonlit garden; the artist is Obin, who has been working to re-establish traditional batik techniques since the 1970s.

Click to enlarge

At first look I thought this hip wrapper was patchwork, but no, it is entirely hand drawn and dyed. Made in the mid 20th century, it symbolized the afternoon garden. Note the difference in pattern on the two halves. That meant the wearer could change the direction of the wrap for a whole new look.

This early 20th century shoulder wrap shows the influence of the large Muslim community in Cirebon, on the north coast of Java.

On display until September 17, 2017.

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Making Mainbocher at the Chicago History Museum

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Chicago was a visit to the Chicago History Museum, and the highlight of the museum was a current exhibition, Making Mainbocher. You may know the name Mainbocher, as he was a major designer from 1930 through 1971. Though he got his start in fashion in Paris, Main Bocher (as he was originally named) was from Chicago, and the exhibition began with a look at his time in the city, and the influences the city had on his long career.

Bocher always loved the arts, and during his school days in Chicago he studied drama and music. He later started a course in illustration at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and to help make ends meet he worked at Sears, Roebuck, answering customer complaint letters, a job that later he credited with teaching him the value of good customer service.

At nineteen, Main Bocher left Chicago, and never again lived there. In the years before World War I he lived in New York, with long stretches in Europe. He had just had his first major commission as an illustrator (above) when the US entered the war. He enlisted, and remained in France until the outbreak of the next war. During the 1920s Bocher tried fashion illustration, and ended up at Harper’s Bazar as an artist. The exhibition had quite a few examples – typical 1920s illustration, all signed Main Bocher. His big break came in 1923 when he went to work for French Vogue. In 1927 he was made the editor.

But Bocher felt he had more to offer in fashion. He quit his Vogue position to open his own couture house. Unfortunately his timing was poor, as a few months after he quit, Wall Street crashed. He put the plan on hold while he scraped together the money to start the business. In 1930 he opened his salon, named it Mainbocher and Frenchied up the pronunciation. He was forty years old.

Things were slow at first, but his persistence paid off, and the business became a great success. Probably the biggest boost to Mainbocher came in 1937 when Wallis Simpson had him design her wedding dress and trousseau for her wedding to the Duke of Windsor.

The earliest clothes in the exhibition date from 1937. The dress on the left is actually two pieces, a tunic over a long dress. The coat in the middle is really beautiful. It is a wool tweedy plaid cut on the bias, and has a lovely drape. Mainbocher donated these two pieces to the Chicago History Museum in 1968.

This suit is also from 1937, and is quite special as it is one of the designs that originated with the Duchess of Windsor’s trousseau. Her version was grey with blue and white accessories.

This suit belonged to Mrs. Stephen Ingersoll of Chicago. I’m not sure it is possible for a suit to have a prettier neckline.

When it became obvious that Paris was going to fall to the Germans, Mainbocher and his partner (who was also his illustrator) Douglas Pollard, left France and settled in New York. To raise money to restart his business, Mainbocher partnered with Warner Corsets with a line of corsets. As far as I could tell, this is the only time Mainbocher did a line of any type of ready-to-wear.

The two evening dresses above (1945 and 1946) are good examples of Mainbocher’s philosophy toward embellishment. The dresses themselves had spare, elegant lines. Mainbocher added the decoration so to eliminate the need for jewelry.

This dress is from 1945, and was made for Mrs. Watson Armour III. The dress was originally designed in yellow, but Mrs. Watson requested it in grey.

One of the real strengths of the exhibition is the presence of a book of facsimiles of the original sketches and swatches. Here is the same dress in the original yellow.  Almost all the designs had the accompanying sketch, and it added so much to the show.

During WWII, the scarcity of materials forced designers to develop ways of stretching the wardrobes of their clients. Mainbocher made cocktail aprons that matched his gowns. He continued the idea with the 1947 gown on the right. He also came up with the idea of the embellished evening sweater, which went on to be a classic of the 1950s.

This 1951 ballgown rated  its own revolving pedestal. It was a good way to see how Mainbocher used four different colors of satin to make the skirt.

Mainbocher was a master of the strapless gown, which he first designed in 1934. By the late 1940s it was a big part of what he was best known for.

And while Mainbocher is best known for his ball gowns, I do believe that his suits are my favorites.  There were only a few suits in the exhibition, but they were all stunning. The original sketch shows that the applied motif on the jacket and the waist band is also in a matching off-white silk blouse. Details matter.

Possibly my favorite in the entire exhibition, this navy suit dates from 1948.

I love Mainbocher’s continued use of the self-applique. It adds detail without being obvious. This was another case where I really wanted to go up and unbutton the jacket so I could see the rest of it.

I need to see this dress as well. The bodice has an interesting criss-cross that tends to mirror the points of the lace decoration of the skirt.

In the 1960s when the fashion world was going mad, Mainbocher continued to do what he did best – making beautiful clothes for women who wanted to look sophisticated. 1964 and 1966.

In the 1940s Mainbocher did a bit of uniform design work. In 1942 he was contracted to design uniforms for the WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

I especially loved this grey and white seersucker work uniform.  It is actually a dress with jacket.

In 1948 Mainbocher redesigned uniforms for the Girl Scouts of America.

And in what is probably the chicest nurses’ uniform ever, he made this one for the student nurses at Passavant Memorial Hospital (which is now Northwestern Memorial in Chicago).

It was a beautiful exhibition, and I left feeling like I really knew what Mainbocher was about. Curator Petra Slinkard did an excellent job, and if you are in the Chicago area and have not seen this show, it is well-worth the time and effort to see it.  Closes August 20, 2017.

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