Category Archives: Museums

Manus X Machina, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part III

Today I finish up tantalizing all of you with photos of stunning clothing.  And today’s view holds some absolutely stellar clothing.

Lace

Above is a suit from Yves Saint Laurent, from the spring 1963 haute couture.  It seemed to be a real crowd favorite, and I can see why.

The lace is just exquisite! It was also made by machine.

The dress on the left is from Simone Rocha, from her spring 2014 ready-to-wear collection.  She called this the “Wet Lace Frill Dress”.  It’s not really wet; the illusion is achieved by use of a foil polyurethane layer laminated to back of the lace of the bodice, which is nylon.  It was not particularity appealing.

At first glance one might have “1920s” fit through the head when looking at the dress on the right, but it is actually a 1963 cocktail dress from Balenciaga.  The lace is machine made, but the dress is constructed by hand.

Here’s where I got to show off a bit of knowledge to my friend, Jill.  This silk lace gown is by Chanel, and is from 1938.  You can see the precise placement of the medallion motifs, but what you can’t see in my photo is how the lace was trimmed and overlapped to match, instead of being constructed with straight seams.

And while Coco Chanel’s use of flowers is exuberant, next to Karl Lagerfeld’s floral concoctions the decoration on this dress looks understated.

This is the place in the exhibition where I was to the point that I’d been exposed to all the hard plastic and 3D garments I could take.  By looking though my photos you are not going to see an accurate representation of this part of the exhibition.  The Hussein Chalayan and Iris van Herpen and threeARFOUR hard dresses simply ceased to be of interest to me.  Maybe due to my viewing of the Iris van Herpen show at the High Museum in Atlanta, I had seen these concepts recently and they were fresh on my mind.

Call me old fashioned, but beautiful as those clothes are, I’ve got to question if they are, in fact, fashion.

This 1920s dress has an interesting history.  It came to the Met as part of the Brooklyn Museum collection, and had been donated to the Brooklyn by Mercedes de Acosta.  The dress and many more garments containing lace had belonged to her sister, Rita de Acosta Lydig.  Lydig was a collector of antique laces, which she had incorporated into her new clothing, much of which was made by Callot Soeurs.  While there is no label, it is thought this dress of handmade lace and black silk was made by Callot Soeurs.

Made around 1870, I’m pretty sure this is the oldest garment in the exhibition.  It is all hand Irish crochet lace.  It looked a bit forlorn and out of place.

Update:  I’ve been told that this dress is miscatalogued, and is actually from the early 20th century.  This is certainly out of my range of knowledge.

Update II:  I have had the opinions of five persons who are very knowledgeable in 19th and early 20th century clothing, and all of them place this dress at 1908-1912.  Interesting.

Leather

This coat by Paul Poiret was the biggest surprise (to me, anyway) of the show.  None of the many reviews I had read pictured this, one of my all-time favorite garments.  It was in the 1996 Haute Couture show, and in the 2007 Poiret exhibition, so maybe the reviewers had already seen it and did not find it to be of great interest.  If so, I beg to differ!

The white decoration is leather, cut and applied by hand.  You can even see the stitch marks.  The back is also decorated, but unfortunately the method of display did not give a good look at the back.

By contrast, the newer, machine and even laser cut leather decorated garments just did not measure up to the work of this coat.  I was a bit embarrassed for them!

2013 haute couture from Dolce and Gabbana.  The decoration is green laser cut lambs fleece.

Here’s another 1960s look from Paco Rabanne, this one much more wearable that the metal dress I posted earlier. It is made from diamond shaped pieces of leather and astrakhan fur, linked together with pieces of metal.

Synthetic leather was also shown.  This 2013 dress from Comme des Garcon, is made of handmade faux leather flowers, hand linked, over a machine sewn base.

The Tailleur  and the Flou

And as if there was not already enough to digest, the visitor to Manus X Machina is treated to an appendix in the form of showing the two types of haute couture ateliers: the tailleur (tailoring) and the flou (dressmaking).

As a sort of centerpiece of this section, the curators placed a working toile from Charles James (left) next to several more recent works that appear to be toiles, but are, in fact, finished garments.

These two dresses are from Andre Courreges, and I’m sure you recognize them as being from the 1960s.  We sometimes look at clothing from the 60s as being “simple” but a lot of skill goes into the making of dresses like these.

A perfectly executed seam.

Please forgive this incredibly awful photo, but I have to show it to make the next point.  The dress above is by Coco Chanel, made in 1927 of wool jersey and silk satin.  It is an excellent example of the type of thing made in the flou atelier.

The tailleur is represented with a lineup of Chanel suits, with the one on the left dating from 1963, and the one on the right being from 2015.

While the suits on the left and the center are pretty much what you would expect from Chanel, a close-up of the jacket on the right is a whole new thing.  What you are looking at is not fabric at all, but is a 3D printed mesh.  It appears to me that it is laid over a layer of fabric.

The suit looks to be perfectly wearable, but I’ve got some doubts about that.  But it is at least a use of 3D printing that people can relate to, which seems to me to be important if the technology is to be accepted as a viable alternative to conventional fabric.

And with that, I’ll finish up this tour of Manus X Machina.  It’s on view through September 5, 2016, and if possible, you need to put this at the top of your summer plans.  I’d love to hear from others who have already seen the show.

 

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Manus X Machina, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part II

One thing I need to point out before diving into today’s post is that as a show that is in large part showing how advancing technology is being used in high fashion, many of the clothes in Manus X Machina are less than a decade old.  It’s possible that a few are even still available to buy in high-end retail establishments.

Given the nature of the show this is necessary, but what surprised me was how many of the newer items were courtesy of the fashion house that made them. Probably the most heavily represented was Chanel.  It gave the show a bit of a commercial air, a criticism that is often mentioned in conjunction with the Met’s Chanel show of 2005.

That aside, and regardless if you give a care about current fashion, with almost 200 garments on view, there is more than enough of the best of the Costume Institute for visitors to enjoy.

Artificial Flowers

The dress and detail above are from a 1928 court presentation gown from French couturiers, the Boué Soeurs.  The dress really is a showstopper with the silver threads and the lovely silk flowers.  And even though this is haute couture from the 1920s, much of the work, such as the silver embroidery and the picot edging, was done by machine.

At this point I want to acknowledge the superb work done by the Costume Institute conservators.  This dress looks so fresh and new, but you can be sure it was not received in such condition.  I am in awe of their skill.

There is a clever little detail that tells us this cape and the matching dress is from Chanel.  Can you see it?

Look at the row of pink pearls at the hem of the dress that are used in place of the Chanel chain.  Two Chanelisms for the price of one.

I thought it was really interesting how the common yo-yo, so often found in Depression era quilts and made from feedsack material, has found its way into Chanel haute couture.  Note how the “flowers” are small at the top, and gradually increase in size.

Each flower has little crystals sewn in the center.  There are 1,300 of them.  From the 2010 Spring haute couture.

And here is another from Chanel, a wedding ensemble from 2005.  Coco Chanel used the camellia as her signature flower, but in less conspicuous ways than this dress made of 2500 handmade flowers.  This dress could have also been featured in the feathers category.  Later on in the exhibition, there is a Chanel lace gown showing her more restrained use of artificial camellias.

Again, the color in my photo is off.  This dress is white.

Anyone who ever doubts that Miuccia Prada is very influenced by the past, especially the 1930s, has only to look at these two dresses from the current Prada fall ready-to-wear collection.  The embroidery is done by machine, while the clusters of sequin and bead flowers are made and attached by hand.

What can I possibly say about Monsieur Dior’s floral fantasies?  These two, from 1952 and 1953, were sewn by machine, but otherwise were made by hand.  Note how in both dresses the embroidery “fades” near the hem.

How many shades of green do you suppose the embroiderers used to make those leaves?

Pleating

Here we have not one Fortuny silk pleated dress, but five! Marian0 Fortuny developed a special process for pleating light-weight silk, which he used from 1907 until his death in the 1940s.  The gowns were based on his vision of Greek clothing, and they were decorated with glass beads to add weight, and often trimmed with his hand-printed satin and velvet fabrics.

 

See the little attached beads along the hem?

Many of Fortuny’s processes have never been duplicated, though many have tried.  Notable among them is Mary McFadden, who in the mid 1970s patented a similar pleated fabric made of polyester.  The colors were rich, the decoration often lavish, and the silhouettes straight and long.

This part of the exhibition was very interesting because it was in a hall with the Fortunys on one wall, and the McFaddens on the wall opposite.  The view was simply breathtaking.

Here you see Madame Grés paired with Iris van Herpen.  I’m afraid I witnessed more than one visitor stifling giggles at the sight of the van Herpen skirt.  The top though, is a marvel, being 3-d printed.  The comparison with the pleating of Madame Grés was well done, though the Grés gowns were in the background, and a bit in the shadows.  It was impossible to really see the details.

Here is another example of what makes this exhibition so interesting.  The 1990 pleated pieces above are by Issey Miyake, and on the opposite wall they have displayed the same pieces flat on the floor.

I should have flipped this photo, as the order is reversed, but the closest piece in each photo is the same.  Did they come with instructions for wearing?

I remember these skirts from Raf Simons for Dior.  There were part of the 2015 spring haute couture.  Much of what you see was made by machine, though the pleats were set by hand.  I’m not sure why this was deemed important enough to show off three looks from the collection, but I suspect it was just for the visual impact.

I suppose you can call this technique pleating.  The original concept is the brown dress, made by Pierre Cardin in 1968.  It’s polyester that was heat-molded.  The black dress is from Junya Watanabe and was made from a similar technique in 2015.

Okay, this is where I admit that there are times when I simply do not “get” everything.  Maybe because the juxtaposition of Dior’s 1947 Bar suit with Hussein Chatlayan’s 2007 Mechanical Dress, and Paco Rabanne’s 1968 dress made of links of aluminum was too jarring.  Perhaps I’d already absorbed my limit.  But even while standing there in the gallery, I scratched my head, though happy to see both the Dior and the Rabanne.

Then I realized that the exhibition takes a bit of a detour at that point, and this was a bit of an introduction to the inner workings of a garment.  The Dior is completely dependent on the inside structure of the jacket, the Rabanne has no interior structure, and the Chatlayan is a mix of the two.  I’ll show more of that part of the exhibition in the next installment.

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Manus X Machina, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the best things about New York in the summer is that one gets to take in the costume exhibition at the Met.  I’ve been a bit critical of shows at the Met, as I  often feel like I’ve been bludgeoned over the head by the concept of the show, and in some ways, this one is no different.  But it really does not matter, because this exhibition is a delight to behold, concept or no concept.

And the concept is not so much handmade against machine made as it is the use of both in haute couture and in ready-to-wear.  In many of the examples, it was interesting to see how hand and machine are both crucial to the making of the garment.  Still, when all was said and experienced, the hand techniques of traditional couture come out looking ever so fine.

But let’s see what you think.  Because of the over-abundance of photos, I’m dividing this review into three posts.

The show is organized around six traditional garment maker’s crafts: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork.  There is also an area that goes into the two types of haute couture workrooms, the tailleur (tailoring) and the flou (dressmaking).  Visitors are also treated to a selection of toiles, or muslins, the couturier’s pattern.

In the center of the exhibition is the dress seen in both photos above.  It’s by Chanel, and was chosen to show the confluence of hand and machine work.  The fabric of the dress is scuba fabric, and the train is silk that is printed,  and is both machine and hand embroidered.  You can barely see it in my photos, but on the dome there was a swirling projecting of the design of the train.  These projections of details were used in various places in the exhibition.

Embroidery

This 1957 dress was part of Yves Saint Laurent’s debut collection at Dior.  The dress is actually white, and though it looks like a free flowing trapeze design, it is actually quite structured as one would expect in a couture dress from the 1950s.

These two gowns are from Christian Dior’s 1949 fall collection, and it seems like the two are always displayed and photographed together.  On the left is “Junon” and on the right, “Venus.”  They were positioned next to an Alexander McQueen dress that I somehow neglected to photograph.  A note, these two gowns along with at least ten others were on display in 1996 in the Met’s Haute Couture exhibition.  I was surprised (and delighted) to see them.

Two designers, fifty years apart, hand embroidered coral on gowns.  On the left is a couture dress by Givenchy, 1963.  The ready-to-wear dress on the right is from Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.

You can see that the Givenchy dress is almost all coral, while the McQueen one also has pearl beads and pieces of shell.

I cannot tell a lie – I adore this dress from Yves Saint Laurent, 1983.  The dress without the sequins was made in the Saint Laurent atelier, and then was sent to Maison Lesage for the application of the sequins so that it looks as if there are no seams at all.  It took 1500 hours to embroider this dress.

The sequins are actually silver instead of the gold in which they appear under the light, and can you tell how tiny they are?  It is an amazing dress.

Here are two of Norman Norell’s famous sequined gowns.  They almost look as if they could have come from the same collection, but this was a Norell standard.  The dress on the left is from 1965, and the one on the right dates to 1953.  Both are a combination of machine and hand work, as is much of upper level ready-to-wear.

In the background you can see three shiny dresses from Louis Vuitton, designed by Nicolas Ghesquiere.  The surface of each is decorated with tiny applied strips of metal.

This set of three dresses really gets to the heart of the concept.  The dress on the left is from Chanel, 1935.  It is hand embroidered with sequins on silk.  The middle dress is from Maison Margiela, 1996.  It is not sequined at all.  The “sequins” are actually printed onto the synthetic fabric.  And the dress on the right is a sort of combination of the two, being embroidered on machine sewn silk, but then over-printed to get the design.

Feathers

This 1966 dress is from Givenchy.  The dress is machine sewn and hand finished, but what I thought was really interesting is that the feathers are glued onto the silk fabric.

How similar, but oh, so different are these two dresses! On the left, is a dress from Yves Saint Laurent, 1969.  I really should have gotten a closeup of the feathers, as the work was exquisite.  On the right, a 2013 dress from Iris van Herpen.  The “feathers” are made from silicone and the three gull skulls are covered with silicone.

Okay, I know the the Van Herpen is not for everyone, and this is where the contrast between hand and machine widens into a deep divide.  You can look at the previous comparisons and think, “I get it.”  But here you might be tempted to think, “This is cool, but is it where we are in fashion right now?”

I think it is super that the Van Herpens and Gareth Pughs of the world are looking beyond conventional materials in fashion, but I think the point of the exhibition could be better made with things that are more in line with fashion.  A good example is the Maison Margiela printed sequin dress above.  We look back in time to Paco Rabanne.  His metal and plastic clothes were creative and interesting, but they were also uncomfortable (according to Audrey Hepburn, at least) and we all did not end up wearing clothing made of metal and plastic bits.

I hate that my photos are so poor, but I had to include the dress on the left anyway.  It’s Raf Simons for Dior, and the surface of the dress is completely covered in rooster feathers, glued to the silk organza base.  On the right is an ensemble from Sarah Burton for McQueen, and is a cape and dress covered in ostrich and goose feathers, hand sewn onto silk.  The design was based on that of a moth’s wing.

This dress is by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.  It is haute couture, 2014.  The decoration is an interesting mix of cut cellophane, plastic sequins, and black duck feathers.  Machine sewn, hand embroidered, glued, and hand finished.  Manus X Machina.

Next up, artificial flowers and pleating.

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Uniformity at the Museum at FIT

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York, the purpose of which was to play guide to my friend Jill and a pair of twenty-four year olds who wanted to experience the big city. As such, fashion things were not number one on our list, but Jill and I managed to fit in two exhibitions.  First up is Uniformity, the latest at the Museum at FIT.

Uniforms are not fashion (though they can be fashionable) but they do influence fashion and designers.  The museum chose to show this influence though four categories of uniforms: sports, school, work, and the military.  Above, the curator, Emma McClendon, set the stage by giving us an example from each category, with an extra military uniform thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps that is because there are so many military influences in fashion that the category deserved extra representation.

Here we have on the left, a US colonel’s dress blue uniform from the 1950s.  It does not take a lot of imagination to see how designer Mainbocher took the men’s original to develop the US Navy WAVE uniform of WWII, center.  It does take a bit more of an imaginative stretch to see how Coco Chanel was inspired by blue military uniforms, but there it is in the brass buttons and navy wool of her suit from around 1960, right.

And that is how great designers work.  A garment is not so much copied as it is re-interpreted.

On the right you see the famous “Ike Jacket”, named for General Eisenhower, who favored the style.  During the war, and even afterward, the style became a favorite of both men and women as returning GIs found the jacket to be functional for civilian wear ( My father-in-law’s well-worn Ike jacket still hangs in the coat closet of his home.)  Designers like Claire McCardell adapted the look, as in her shorts ensemble shown above.  Note the bit of red plaid halter top, with was definitely not a part of the uniform.

On the left is a 1998 jacket and skirt from Comme des Garcons designer, Rei Kawakubo.  It is a pretty faithful copy of an olive drab men’s army jacket, but the sleeves have been ripped away.  Literally. You can’t really tell from the photo but the armholes are rough and a bit frayed.  On the right is Marc Jacob’s 2010 “army” jacket, which he paired with a long, romantic skirt.

Probably my favorite grouping of the exhibition was this one featuring the influence of the sailor’s uniform.  In the middle you see the typical summer and winter uniforms of a midshipman.  Though they seem timeless, the white suit is from 1912 and the navy is from 1915.

With their middy collars, the midshipman influence in these two very different dresses is unmistakable.  On the left is an 1890s dress made of red and white cotton, and intended for casual summer day wear.  One might even attempt a round of tennis in such a dress.  In an interpretation from the late 1950s, designer Norman Norell turned the dress into a luxury look, using silk instead of the expected cotton.  This dress was definitely not for playing tennis.

You might have mistakenly thought that the center look is a typical French sailor uniform, but instead, this is one of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s many adaptations of the mariniere, or Breton shirt.  In 1984 Oscar de la Renta did a sequined version for evening.  The lace and striped look on the right is from designer Chitose Abe for her label, Sacai, 2015.

Work uniforms also influence fashion.  The flight suit of aviators has been adapted into fashionable looks many times.  The suit on the right could be a uniform if not for the bright pink color.  Made in 1976 by Elio Fiorucci, this jumpsuit came to the museum from Lauren Bacall.

Another work uniform that has been much adapted is the typical French waiter’s costume.  This ensemble is from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in 2015, so you may remember the Chanel show that was staged like a Parisian Brasserie.  All I can see that that perfect cardigan.

Though designed for children and very young adults, the school uniform also has been an influence on fashion.  The blazer dates to 1825 when members of a rowing team at Cambridge University wore “blazing red” jackets.  The garment became associated with college men’s uniforms.  On the left is what is thought to be a Princeton blazer from the 1920s.  The one on the right is a 1944 Princeton blazer.  Today the blazer is more associated with office attire, but it still has preppy connotations.

Here we see an influence of an influence.  The 1927 girl’s school uniform of the left clearly mimics the sailor’s uniform with the navy color and tied collar.  Unfortunately, you can’t tell that the uniform also reflects fashion in the dropped waist and pleated skirt.  On the right is designer Rudi Gernreich’s 1967 version of the schoolgirl’s uniform.  The sailor influences are still present.

Also go back to the very first photo.  What looks to be an additional school uniform is one, though it is from Japan and dates from a much more recent era.

And finally, you can see the influence that sports uniforms have on fashion.  In 1967 designer Geoffrey Beene made fashion news with his sequined football jersey dress.  It was featured in all the best fashion magazines.  In the middle is the real thing, a 1920s football uniform.  The craziness on the right is from Stella Jean.

The outfit on the right is very interesting.  It really could be mistaken for a uniform for an active sport, but it is actually from French designer, Ungaro, 1969.  It’s like he was inviting the wearer to join  Team Ungaro.  The set on the left is a cycling ensemble fro the 1980s, and the Swiss jersey on the wall is from 1972.

It’s interesting how sports teams have capitalized on their uniforms by marketing hats and jerseys to the general public.  Is that fashion?

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and well-presented exhibition.  We went late, an hour or so before the 8 pm closing, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  I really loved having Jill with me, as although she does love pretty clothes, she is a professional educator, not a fashion-obsessed crazy like me.  She was seeing some of these concepts for the first time, and I loved the way the museum made the crossover between uniforms and fashion so clear to her.

Now through September 16, 2016.

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Nashville: The Rest of the Story

Nashville is one of those cities that changes depending on where you are standing.  You can be on one corner and it is a completely different city two blocks over.  This is Honky Tonk Row, and I pretty much bet that anyone who has never been to Nashville would think this is what the city is all about.  Actually, this is only a little over two city blocks.  One block past this area is a park on the Cumberland River, and three blocks up the hill to the left and you are in the middle of the Tennessee state government.  A couple of miles to the southwest and you are at Vanderbilt University.

That said, this is what tourists go to Nashville for.  By late afternoon this area was bumper to bumper tourists.  Because the three sites we wanted to visit were in this area, we had to take in a honky tonk or two.

Every restaurant/bar/honky tonk had a live band, and the place was noisy.  It was also a lot of fun.

Besides the Tennessee State Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame, we wanted to see the Johnny Cash Museum.  As you might imagine there was a lot of black suits, though many of them were far from plain, as you can see above.  Most of the stage costumes from Cash and his wife June Carter were from the 1970s , during the time he had a TV variety show.  As such, Carter’s costumes were, frankly a bit too polyester for my taste.

Interestingly, there were no clothing items from early in June Carter’s career.  The dress above is vintage early 1960s, but it was worn not by Carter, but by actress Reece Witherspoon when she portrayed Carter in the 2005 movie of the relationship of Cash and Carter, I Walk the Line.

I’ve been meaning to rewatch that film because of an interesting mend on the arms of the dress.  Can you tell that there are multiple rows of machine stitching?  I suppose a supporting fabric was put beneath and then the dress stitched to it.  There was no attempt to hide the mend, and I’ve got to wonder if the dress was damaged while filming.  Or perhaps, the film was cleverly edited to hide the mends.

Even Cash’s boots were black.  These were custom made boots from Acme Boots.  He was pictured in Acme ads in the early 1980s.

Between the Honky Tonks and cowboy boot stores, there are a few gift shops. When traveling to a new place I have to always go into at least one so I can find the “gift” that is unique to that city.  These cowboy boot socks might just be that unique item.

Or maybe these Elvis pajamas are the thing, but I’m betting you can also pick these up in Memphis.

But back to the real purpose of the trip – vintage clothing shopping.  I didn’t take many photos of the big sale I attended because I was too busy looking, and I have no idea how I got a photo without other buyers in it.  This was a tiny, tiny bit of this massive sale.  It had been a very long day (and wait) and so by the end of it I was exhausted.  I did find enough wonderful things to have made the trip worthwhile, and I’ll be sharing them from time to time.

There are some places we’ve traveled to that we return to again and again.  Nashville is not going to be one of them, that is unless another big sale comes along.

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Tennessee State Museum, Nashville

With all the emphasis on country music in Nashville, it is easy to forget that the city is also the state capital.   One thing that can sometimes be found in a state capital is a state museum.

State museums are odd ducks.  They are paid for with tax money, and the workers are employees of the state.  History is often presented in a patriotic manner, with large chunks of what might be uncomfortable to present being glossed over or just omitted altogether.  For instance, one Southern state museum I’ve visited talks all about how cotton mills were important to the economy of that state, and goes so far as to talk about the mill village as a product of mill owner’s charity.  Not a word is written about the struggle of mill workers to gain safe working conditions and decent wages.

I’ve come to expect this carefully edited form of history from both state and municipal museums.  In many cases, they seem to have exhibits based on what they think will attract interest, as in the North Carolina Museum of History and its exhibit on Nascar, or the Atlanta History Center and the room full of golfer Bobby Jones artifacts.  And of course, every Southern history museum has a shrine to that enduring lost cause, the American Civil War.

Which brings me to my recent visit to the Tennessee State Museum.  I’m afraid that we really didn’t do the place justice, as the morning had been spent in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the early afternoon in a place called Honky Tonky Central, which was loud and fun.  But we somehow made our way up the hill (who knew Nashville is so hilly?) and into the museum.

It was not the best conditions for trying to absorb more information, being tired and full of burgers and beer.  But museums are there to be visited, and Tim gamely agreed to a look, though I knew he’d rather be browsing the aisles of the great urban market and bakery we had passed.  As a result, we accidentally missed an entire chunk of the museum.  But because one of the major players in that chunk was Andrew Jackson, I was not concerned.  I’m not a fan of our seventh president.

As one enters the main floor of the museum, there is a large exhibition on the prehistoric story of Tennessee.  We decided to by-pass the fossils and early American artifacts, and headed to a lower level.  In this area we enjoyed the exhibition relating to social movements within Tennessee.  The top photo shows a banner made by members of Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association.

Interestingly, there was also a display of artifacts from the Temperance Movement.  That is a quilt made and signed by the Chattanooga, Tennessee Chapter of the Women’s Temperance Union.

Maybe because we missed part of the early story, I just could not get a sense of time in the museum.  One minute we were looking at items that were important in 1920, and then we rounded a corner to encounter a Civil War scene.

Thrown into the mix was this outfit that belonged to singer Isaac Hayes, who was a Tennessee native.

But there was a quilt room with some fantastic examples of the quilter’s craft.  The one above is the winding blades pattern and was made in Clarksville, TN in the 1870s.  The quilts are mounted on diagonal surfaces which allows for decent viewing without putting too much stress on the textiles.

I loved this idea.  I’ve been to lots of museums and have seen a lot of quilts exhibited, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen a quilting frame set up in a museum.

Finally, the museum had what is probably the finest crazy quilt I’ve ever seen.  It was started in 1884 by Elizabeth Cheney Cash, and finished in 1954 by Harold Cash.  Unfortunately, that is all I can tell you.  Was Harold the son or grandson of Elizabeth?  The museum does not share that information with the visitor.

All the photos below can be enlarged by clicking.  In doing so you will be rewarded with glimpses of some very fine needlework.

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Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, Tennessee

If you follow my Instagram, then you know that we went to Nashville last week.  It’s only a four hour drive, but not being fans of current country music we had never made the trip.  When the liquidation of the inventory of a huge vintage clothing shop was announced, I decided we now had reason enough to cross the mountains into Tennessee.

But a trip is never just about shopping when there are museums to be seen.  When in Nashville, one must pay homage to the Country gods at the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The place is huge, with permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions.  It’s a lot to take in, but I thought the story of the development of country music was well told.  I’m not a fan of current country music, but the history of the genre was fascinating.  Simply put, country began as a mix of Appalachian folk, Black gospel, and cowboy tunes.

I had forgotten how much a part of my life country music has been until this visit.  My father was a big fan of both country and folk music, and by the time I was ten I knew every Johnny Cash song by heart.  As kids we thought it was pretty corny.

Country music is often referred to as Country and Western, and the “western” influences are many, especially in the way country performers have dressed over the years.  There were cowboy boots galore in the museum, all of them ornately decorated.  Above are pairs that belonged to Roy Rogers (yellow) and Dale Evans (blue).

There were quite a few items from the famous “singing cowboys” from the movies of the 1930s and 40s.  Early items, like the Roy Rogers shirt above, were quite plain, but as time went on performance costumes got more and more ornate as the stars took their cues from rodeo stars who had been influenced by the look of the Mexican vaqueros.  All this evolution of style would make a fascinating study!

By the late 1940s, many country stars were buying from Nudie Cohn, the Rodeo Tailor.  Nudie (born in Russia as Nuta Kotlyarenko!) gained a reputation for customized suits and boots and his influence cannot be understated.  He was as much a star as the men and women he dressed.

Here is Nudie’s sewing machine.

While Nudie became famous for his highly embroidered and bespangled suits, one of the most familiar suits on display is this one he made for Hank Williams.  The music notes are applique, and look carefully to see that they extend down the sides of the legs.

And don’t miss the Roy Acuff cloth flour sack.  Acuff was from East Tennessee and was instrumental in the popularization of Appalachian folk melodies as a part of country music.

Many performers used their professional clothing to capitalize on the popularity of a particular song.  Nudie made this suit for singer Hank Snow after his big 1952 hit, “The Golden Rocket.”  I assume the song was about a train.

This Nudie jacket was made for Ray Price, who was billed as “The Cherokee Cowboy.”  Price did grow up on a Texas farm, but I could not find any reference to him actually being Cherokee.

These blue suede shoes belonged, not to Elvis, but to Carl Perkins, the writer and original singer of the song.

If you were ever lucky enough to attend an Elvis concert, you know about the scarves.  Elvis’s manager, Col. Parker came up with the idea of Elvis handing out printed scarves to crazed fans during his performances.  When I saw him in Asheville in 1975 (the time when he put a bullet through the TV at the motel where he was staying) he must have given away over a hundred of them.  Stupid and shy me missed out.

One of my favorite pieces was this Mel Tillis jacket, which was made by another famous tailor to the stars, Manuel Cuevas.

There weren’t as many costumes from women singers, and I was, frankly, disappointed in what the museum chose to represent Patsy Cline.  Many photos of her performing show her in full-out cowgirl with fringe costumes, though she also performed in rather ordinary dresses of the day.  Cline died in 1963, so it is interesting that she was performing in slacks, even if they were gold lamé with matching boots.

The guitar suit belonged to singer Don Gibson, a Western North Carolina native, and singer of “Oh, Lonesome Me.”

This costume puts me in mind of a cowboy super-hero, but it is actually another song-inspired suit.  Nudie made this ensemble for Hank Garland, who wrote the Red Foley hit, “Sugarfoot Rag.”

The museum has a special section to celebrate Merle Haggard, who died back in April.  Haggard had a very troubled childhood, and was in and out of juvenile detention centers, and later, prison for a variety of offences.  He was actually in San Quentin in 1958 when Johnny Cash performed there.  Hag managed to get his life on track, and by the mid 1960s was a moderate star.  He had a string of major hits in the late 60s including “Mama Tried” and “Okie from Muskogee” (one of the all time hilariously ironic recordings ever).

To me, Merle’s best years were the “Outlaw Country” 1980s when he performed with Willie Nelson and others.  He played in Asheville in 1983 was was arrested after the show for consuming alcohol on the stage.  I still have the tee shirt I got at the concert.  During his induction into the Hall of Fame, he quipped, ” I thought you had to be dead to get in here.”  I do love Hag.

Dottie West’s outfit above was designed by that master of bling, Bob Mackie.  The boots were made by Di Fabrizio, the bootmaker who made boots for the rock group, Kiss.

And of course, there was a black suit from Johnny Cash.  We also visited the Johnny Cash museum where we saw even more black suits.

In the 1960s, the lines between country and rock continued to be blurred, a process that began with Elvis and Carl Perkins in the 50s.  By the mid 60s, rock singers were going to Nashville, and there is a special exhibition called “Nashville Cats” that focuses on the give and take nature of rock and country at that time.  Many songs of that period just cannot be put into a special box labeled “country.”

A  good example is Gram Parsons.  Here is the Nudie suit he had made for the cover of the album The Gilded Palace of Sin in 1969.  Those are pills, poppies, and marijuana plants.  I guess Gram was into drugs. (Thanks to Janey Atomic Redhead for identifying the poppies.)

By the late 1970s, old style country music was out of style.  Country singers were less flashy, and a lot less “folky”.  Dwight Yoakum ,  with his nouveau honky tonk style was making no headway in Nashville in the established country music industry, so he went to California where he released his first album in 1986.

What really makes Yoakum interesting is his look.  He went to Manuel Cuevas for his jackets which he paired with torn and repaired jeans decorated with Mexican silver conchos and a tuxedo shirt left hanging out.  It was a throw back to the spangled costumes of a few decades earlier, but at the same time, seems to predate the torn jeans look by quite a few years.  In fact, Kanye West wore a similar look to the Met Gala this year.

And finally, I really loved that the Country Music Hall of Fame had a little area where kids (of all ages) could design their own country outfit.

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Filed under Museums, Proper Clothing, Road Trip