Category Archives: Museums

Air and Light: The Photography of Bayard Wootten

I was recently in need of a museum day, and so I drove out to Cullowhee, NC to the Mountain Heritage Center.  I was interested in seeing a group of photographs by North Carolina photographer Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten, whose archive is held by the library at UNC Chapel Hill.  Wootten’s is not exactly a household name, not even here in North Carolina, but I’d read enough about her to know I wanted to learn more.

The very short version of her biography is that she was born (1875) and reared in New Bern, NC, was educated at what is now UNC Greensboro, which was at the time a school to train women to be teachers.  She did teach art for a while, and eventually married and had two sons.  Her husband went off to the West, looking for fortune, leaving Bayard and the small boys abandoned.  Back in New Bern she worked as a decorative painter, but realized that there was more money to be made in photography.

She set up a photography studio in 1904, and her biggest money-maker was taking the portraits of guardsmen at nearby Camp Glenn.  Her reputation grew, and in the 1920s she moved her studio to Chapel Hill, where she was the official photographer of Yackety Yack, the UNC yearbook.  But her interest went beyond the studio, and during the 1920s through the 1950s, she traveled the Carolinas documenting people as they lived.  As a result, there is a vast archive of photographs showing the people of the Carolinas.

These top two photos are of Bayard, and were probably taken by her brother, George Moulton, who was her partner in the Chapel Hill studio.  The Wootten Archive contains over 90,000 items.  Unfortunately there was a fire at the studio in the early 1930s, so most of the photos and negatives post-date the fire.  Still, this was the time when Wootten did most of her documentary work.

All the illustrations for this post are my photos of the exhibition, so please pardon the reflections.  All the photos can be enlarged with a click.

Information for each photograph was somewhat limited, and I’m not sure if that is due to curatorial decision or the lack of documentation in the archive.  This photo was labeled Mrs. Wilma McNabb’s Porch, Western North Carolina, 1930s.  I love Wilma’s stylish dress, and the fact that it reputes the idea that mountain women were still in sunbonnets and prairie-style dresses in the twentieth century.

Gossips, [Western North Carolina] 1930s

Wootten was often commissioned to make photos to illustrate books.  This one can be found in Olive Tilford Dargan’s 1941 book, From My Highest Hill: Carolina Mountain Folks.

Weaver at Penland, North Carolina, circa 1934

Wootten also made many photos of crafts people at work at Penland School of Crafts.  Located near Spruce Pine, NC, Penland was founded by a cousin of Wootten’s, Lucy Morgan.  In this case we know that the weaver is Mae Gouge.

This photograph was labeled as being in a Greensboro textile mill, 1940s.  It’s actually earlier, as evidenced by the clothing and hair of the women workers.  They are inspecting the bolts of cloth.

Late 1920s, early 1930s is my estimate.  And even though child labor laws had been enacted, look at how young some of the girls are.  And even though their pay was very small, these young women managed to be somewhat fashionable, even on the job.

This is a textile spinning room, possibly in the same mill as the above one.  By the 1930s, mechanization had reduced the number of workers needed in a spinning room, and the spindle tenders were often very overworked.

This was probably my favorite of all the photographs.  Taken in Crossnore, NC, the surgeons are doctors Mary and Eustice Sloop.  Mary Sloop wrote a book about her experiences as a mountain doctor, and the formation of a school in Crossnore.  The couple preferred to operate outdoors due to the poor lighting in the buildings.  The presence of the three women in street clothing is a bit puzzling.  Maybe they were family members of the man on the table.

The Mountain Heritage Center is part of Western Carolina University.  The exhibits are in temporary quarters in the library, but will be moving to a new visitor’s center when it is completed.  That’s good, because right now the set-up is so limited, being split across two locations in the library.  And there is a quite large collection of artifacts concerning Western North Carolina, most of which are not on display.  There are also thousands of print items, some of which are available for viewing on their website.

All original images are copyright of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

 

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Keep Moving Forward

Last week I took some time to visit a local history museum in a nearby town.  I’d been there before, several years ago, and remembered that at that time there was a no photo policy in effect at the museum.  I was hoping the policy had changed, because there is one artifact in particular that I wanted to photograph.

That artifact is a 1947 wedding dress that was made from German parachutes.  The bride’s brother, knowing that his sister was to be married and that fabric was in short supply, liberated the parachute silk near the end of the war.  He sent it home, where his sister had the dress made for her wedding two years later.  What makes this artifact so interesting is that there are photos of the bride wearing the dress, plus photos taken of the couple quite recently.

It’s a great story, one that I wanted to share here.  So many times we remember wars just through the battles, but it is important to know that every person, whether in combat or not, is affected by war.  This wedding dress is a reminder that history is not just dates and facts, but also people’s lives.

I would tell you more about the bride and groom, but unfortunately, the display was stuck in a far corner, and the print on the display so small that it could not be read.  When I was last in the museum, the dress was in a glass case at the front, prominently displayed.  Last week, it was a seeming afterthought in an unrelated exhibit.  Even if photos had been permitted, I could not have gotten decent shots of the dress.

I don’t like being harsh about local history museums.  They are often staffed solely by volunteers, and the budget is usually tiny.  They have important stories to tell, and as a whole this museum does an admirable job.  But it seems to me that they could do a lot better by this important dress.

Because I still have Amanda Grace Sikarskie’s Textile Collections:  Preservation, Access, Curation, and Interpretation in the Digital Age on my mind, I’ve spent some time thinking about what exactly is needed by small museums.  I’m sure that if I were to ask the lovely docent at this particular museum what was needed most, she would say, “Money.”  In fact she mentioned several times about things that were needed but they do not have the money.

But when I got home and read through my Twitter feed, I found these words from Valerie Steele of the Museum at FIT:

A museum is like a shark, it needs to keep moving forward or else it will die.

Of course I don’t know the context of the quote, as it was taken from a talk she made at a recent conference.  But I do think she pointed out what is a big problem – that people have changed the way we interact with the world, and our museums can either capitalize on these changes, or die.

To start, museums really do need to rethink their photography policies.  Like it or not, people are recording their lives through their smartphones. The smart institution uses this to its advantage.  Every time a visitor tweets or Instagrams, or makes a Facebook post from a museum, that museum gets free advertising.  I can’t tell you how often I see a post on Instagram  by someone  visiting a fashion exhibition that has a friend make a comment  and tag a friend with, “We’ve got to see this.”

Smart institutions make it easy for visitors to share a photo opportunity.  This is my friend Linda, trying on a crinoline and reproduction mid 19th century dress at the Charleston Museum.  They have an entire dress-up area as part of the textile gallery.  Linda does not share my passion for fashion history, but she dressed up in the spirit of fun, and shared the photo.

In the fifteen years that I’ve been actively pursuing fashion exhibitions, I’ve seen a lot of changes.  I started out sketching at these exhibitions because of all the no photos rules.  But now I find that rarely  is an exhibition off limits to photographers.  Yes, there should be rules, like no tripods and such, but most visitors are just wanting a photo or two to share on Instagram.

One of the big arguments against photos in museums is that they counteract the introspective examination of the art or the exhibit.  That may be true, but there is not a lot of private contemplation happening at the Met’s Costume Institute blockbusters, or at the Mona Lisa, or in the Impressionist galleries of any museum.  However, you can overcome this problem by going through an exhibition twice – once just to study the artifacts, and then a second time to take photos.

I’m saying this, not to criticize museums, but to point out that while all over the world museums are in financial trouble, not all problems are going to be solved with money.  Maybe the key to survival is to come up with ways to make visitors feel like they are part of the museum.  Having a good photo policy is just one tiny step in that direction.

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The Atlanta History Center

While in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I revisited the Atlanta History Center.  My main reason for visiting was to see the latest fashion exhibition, Fashion in Good Taste, but I also took the time to look through the permanent galleries.  It seems like there is always something great to study in the exhibition halls.

Above is a pair of stockings made by Mrs. Henry Clay Hughes in Roswell, which is just north of Atlanta, from her own home-grown cotton.  Circa 1913.

The Atlanta History Center seems to have this overwhelming desire to put everything behind glass, so I’m sorry that the photos are so poor.  From the North Georgia Collins family, accomplished weavers.

English lace making by Betty Kemp.  My mind is officially blown.

It seems like the latest thing in museum curation is the “??? in 50 objects” exhibition.  The Atlanta History Center got in on the trend with Atlanta in 50 Objects.  This is a 1969 Delta Airlines (which is based in Atlanta) stewardess uniform.  It has a sort of mod-meets-granny vibe.

I’ve written about the “Fabulous Fox” before, and it is scary to think about how close Atlanta came to losing this theater.  In 1974 Atlantans joined to raise $3,000,000 to save the theater, which was slated for demolition.  The property was bought by a newly-formed non-profit, and today, instead of a parking garage, the Fox still is home to live performances.

Rich’s was Atlanta’s biggest department store, before being gobbled up by Federated Department Stores (later, the Macy’s chain).  Starting in 1959 Priscilla the Pink Pig monorail took children on a tour over the toy department each Christmas.

The exhibit above is a bit puzzling, as the items are actually more connected to Athens, Georgia, than with Atlanta.  The dress, wigs, and boots belonged to Cindy Wilson of the B-52s.  Wilson designed the dress (see her sketch) which was worn in performances and on the cover of Whammy! their 1983 album.

Before the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Atlanta was home to a minor league baseball team called the Atlanta Crackers. Above is a boy’s uniform from the early days of the team.

Unfortunately, the utilization of so many artifacts combined with the use of glass made for poor viewing of some exhibits.  The visual clutter was quite distracting at times.

Both the suit and the “Votes for Women” sash date to 1918.   The original owner of neither was identified, and it was not made clear whether the suit was actually worn by a woman working for the right to vote.

There was this great display of bathing attire, which was easier to see than my photo suggests.  The white object on the right is a set of Ayvad’s Water-Wings.   The bathing suit on the right was identified as a man’s suit, but I’m not so sure.  By the 1920s, when this suit was made and worn, the tank portion of men’s suits had developed deep armholes.

Of all the objects shown in Atlanta in 50 Objects, this carpetbag is possibly the most significant.  After the end of the Civil War, many Northerners moved south, looking to profit from Reconstruction policies.  These “carpetbaggers” were often poor, and used bags made from carpet scraps to carry their belongings.  Outsiders to the region are still sometimes referred to as carpetbaggers.

And what would a Southern history museum be without its Civil War displays?  I love a great sailor middy, and so here is one.  It really has no connection to Atlanta that I could tell, being worn by Stephen Roach, a sailor in the Union Navy.

Having visited the AHC several times, I spent my limited time there just looking for clothing and textiles.  I was not disappointed.

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Fashion in Good Taste, at the Atlanta History Center

On a recent trip to Atlanta I made time for a visit to the Atlanta History Center.  I specifically wished to see an exhibition of items from their costume collection.  As a museum that focuses on the history of the North Georgia region, the clothes  in the collection are mainly from people who are connected with the area.  This new exhibition, Fashion in Good Taste has quite a few items that were made by designers and dressmakers from Atlanta.

The exhibition was held in Swan House, which is a mansion that is part of the museum complex.  If the view of the rear of the house, seen above, looks familiar, that is because it was used as the presidential mansion in the last Hunger Games film.  The house was built in 1928 for Edward and Emily Inman.  It remained in their family until 1965.  Today the house retains the original furnishings and interior.

The clothing was scattered around the house.  I was surprised to read that this early 1960s dress was from Chanel.  It was owned by Emily Bourne Grigsby, whose life has run the gamut from model at Rich’s Department Store to city planner to lawyer to artist.

One of the problems associated with displaying clothing in such large rooms is that they tend to get lost in the details.  And while the clothes were not behind glass, the large windows let in so much light that it was hard to see the clothing details in most of the rooms.

This stunning dress was worn by Sarah Frances Grant Slaton in 1928 when she was presented at the Court of St. James.  Slaton was First Lady of Georgia from 1911 through 1915.

This was, to me, the most interesting garment on display.  It was designed and worn by Mary Crovatt Hambidge in a style that reflects the art concepts of dynamic symmetry.  Hambidge took up weaving after a trip to Greece.  A decade later she moved to the North Georgia mountains where she started an art center and weaving community.

The halter and skirt on the left belonged to author and Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind.  The set is dated to 1938, two years after Mitchell’s book was published.

Madaline Dickerson Johnson was a member of the flying Ninety-Nines, an organization for women pilots.  This was her flying ensemble of jacket, jodhpurs, helmet and goggles.

This wrap dress was designed and made by Clyde Ingram, who had a dress and costume business in Atlanta. In spite of the name, Clyde was a woman.

Some garments simply defy categorization.  This jumpsuit was designed by Spelman College alumna Ann Moore. After college Moore worked as a designer for many years in Detroit.  When questioned about the jumpsuit, which dates to the 1950s, Moore said they she could not recall the motivation behind the piece.

These two ensembles are also by Ann Moore.  The pants set was part of six matching pieces which Moore called “Ubiquisix.”

The blue dress and coat were made by her for her return to Atlanta on the occasion of Spelman’s 75th anniversary.

This World War II era work overall was worn by Mary Frances Long.

It was part of a grouping of WWII uniforms and work wear.

The exhibition ended with the 1960s.  The pants suit is by French designer Andre Courreges, and was worn by Elizabeth Morgan.  The pink print mini dress belonged to Dean Dubose, as part of her college wardrobe.

Visibility issues aside, it was a nice cross-section of Atlanta-related garments.  I really think they need to have textile shows in the main museum where the amount of light can be regulated.

 

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Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

Last week we found ourselves with a few hours to waste, and we happened to be near the small town of Mount Airy, NC.  Mount Airy is like thousands of other towns across the USA, except they have a big advantage in that an a celebrity, Andy Griffith, was born and reared there.  In the early 1960s Griffith had a hit TV program, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he starred as a sheriff in the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

In case you aren’t familiar with the program, it is one of those that continues to live on in reruns, but more than that, it seems to symbolize to fans the small town America that so many people feel has been lost.  As such, the show still has many fans, most of whom seem to be of a certain age.

Of course this small town paradise, though actually based on the town of Mount Airy, was complete fiction.  It was the early and mid 1960s in the South, and most of American television showed few Blacks or other racial minorities, and Mayberry was no exception.  There were Black extras on the streets of Mayberry in many episodes, but not until the near of the end of the show’s run was a black actor actually cast in a guest role.

But what is authentic is that in the early 60s in most small towns in the South there would have been very little interaction between blacks and whites.  Andy would not have had a Black deputy and Black children would not have attended the same school as his son.  (I first attended school with Black children in 1966.) So like many other books, movies, and TV programs from the mid twentieth century, The Andy Griffith Show reflects a reality that most people would not find acceptable today.

It seems like I’ve been watching this show all my life.  I’m old enough that I watched the episodes when they first aired, in their original form.  Today when reruns are shown, the shows are cut so badly that much of what made it great has been lost.  Fans like to go on and on about how the program shows “a simpler time” but that isn’t what made the show great.  And it wasn’t the plots.  It was the tiny little interactions between the actors, and unfortunately, it’s those parts than tend to be replaced by ads for the latest miracle drug.

But back to Mount Airy.  It’s as though there is a complete Andy of Mayberry industry.  The downtown is full of businesses that sell souvenirs and memorabilia about the show.  There are the usual tee shirts and coffee mugs and such, but there are quite a few show-specific things that only a real fan of the show would understand.

This is a poster of a portrait that was in an episode about a haunted house.  That’s Old Man Rimshaw.

Another interesting item was this jar of pickles.  Aunt Bee was notorious for her horrible pickles.

Of course there is an Andy Griffith Museum, and I was quite amazed by some of the objects, even if presentation left a bit to be desired.  Especially interesting were the costumes.  The suit above was Barney Fife’s (as portrayed by actor Don Knotts) best suit, “the old salt and pepper” .  The suit has a label from the Cotroneo Costume Shop with Knott’s name typed on the label.

Andy Griffith almost always wore his sheriff’s uniform that included this shirt.  What a surprise to see that the shirt had a Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors label!

Probably the most interesting thing to me, though concerns two dresses worn by Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling in the program.  The dresses and matching shoes were not worn on the program, but were worn by Peterson on a variety show special in which she appeared with Griffith.

The museum also has the original sketches from designer Bob Mackie.  Who would have ever thought there would be Bob Mackie costumes in a small town in North Carolina?

A new exhibit at the museum features items from actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Barney Fife.  Among the items she had donated to the museum are a USO uniform , trunk, and pistol she used while touring Asia near the end of WWII.  She was only seventeen when she joined the USO.

The museum was quite entertaining, but it really suffers from being in too small a space.  The walls are completely covered in memorabilia, much of which is redundant.  I’m pretty sure I saw the same photograph of Andy with his classmates in front of his school about three times.  Since visiting we learned that the museum will be in a larger space by the spring of 2017.  I sincerely hope so.

 

 

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Carolina Herrera Exhibition at SCADFASH, Atlanta

I really love that SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) opened a branch museum in Atlanta.  Yesterday was my second visit, and there is so much that I love about SCADFASH and their approach to fashion exhibition.

The latest major show is a Carolina Herrera retrospective, celebrating her thirty-five years as a designer.  The clothes shown range from her first collection in 1981 to gowns from spring 2016, so it is a great look at her whole body of work.  The clothing was not arranged chronologically, though her work from the 1980s was clustered at the beginning of the show.  Otherwise, the clothes were arranged in clusters where one could plainly see some of the themes, colors, and garments that make Carolina Herrera the essence of Refined Irreverence.

The gown on the left in the above photo looks like a pretty dress made from an ordinary pink and white toile fabric.  Look a bit more closely and you’ll see that famous Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe in the circle just above her foot.   That dress is from 2007, and the blue and pink gown on the other end of the sofa is from 2003.

On thing I love about SCADFASH is the use of various means to show more than one side of a garment.  In the 1980s and 1990s part of the exhibition, mirrors were used to see both front and back of each garment.  This is a very effective way to show off the entire garment, but too many mirrors in a gallery can add to visual confusion.  This was the only section where mirrors were employed, all along one long wall, and it worked very well.

The gown above is made of black velvet and a yellow organza side ruffle.

From the fall 1989 collection, this silk jacket has a royal flush in sequins appliqued over the pocket.

Herrera is famous for her interpretation of the white shirt, a garment that she wears a lot of herself.  Along one wall were several versions, all framed like works of art.  I loved this one, as if you start at the top and see only the top half, you think it is just an ordinary white shirt.  But then the eye is drawn to the feathered hem with the little bit of sparkle from the sequins.  Lovely!

This is the detail of another blouse, this one from Resort 2007.  If you ever wonder why high-end ready-to-wear is so expensive, a lot of the cost is in the textiles, and in the work that goes into taking various bits like laces and trims to actually manufacture a textile from the parts.

I really try not to draw undue attention to myself, but this was one case where it was unavoidable.  I wore my only item of Carolina Herrera clothing, a simple cotton top made from the most amazing 1930s inspired swimming woman print.  This print was first used by Herrera in 2005, and you can see it on the mannequin behind me.  My top is from a 2014 reissue of the print.

SCADFASH has a great system where student docents are stationed around the exhibition with ipads that are loaded with photos of the clothes as they were worn on celebrities and shown in fashion magazines.  All these students had to show me a photo of JLo on the cover of Vogue wearing the 2005 dress.  It was really nice of them, and it showed how familiar they were with their content, and how interested they actually were in what they were showing.

Many of the displays were arranged so that the display area extended into the gallery, which is another way to show the garments from more than one angle.  Herrera is so well known for her gowns that its hard to remember that she also does separates.  One of my favorites in the entire show was the pants and top above.

And here it is from the front.  The 1960s inspiration is unmistakable.  It is from 2014.

I wish I had taken a better photo of the dress to the right.  It’s hard to tell, but this is actually a shirtwaist dress with the collar popped up.  Each tier of organza is accented with grosgrain ribbons in coral and black.  I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to the dress until later in the exhibition when there was a video set up showing the clothes in the exhibition as they came down the runway.  This dress moves like a dream.

One of the big issues in clothing display is how to get the museum viewers to see a static object on a mannequin as an object that is meant to move on a human body.  SCADFASH’s use of video and also of the ipad photos, really goes a long way toward solving this problem.

This interesting dress does not show well in my photo, mainly due to the chalky white mannequin.  While the black and colored clothes look great on the mannequins, some of the white and off-white garments seemed to mesh with the mannequins.

But look closely to see that this dress is constructed of cut out pieces stitched to a base of mesh or tulle.  What looks like a collar, pockets, and pleats at first glance, are actually pieces attached to the base.

Here you can see some more historical references.  The 1920s are represented in the beaded dress in the back left, while the dress in the front (which is stunning in person) looks like it is straight from a 1940s film noir.  The red dress with the asymmetrical top is from the fall 2003 Alfred Hitchcock Collection, and I could see one of Hitchcock’s 1950s blondes wearing it.

Here’s a better view of the red dress, and in front, another one of my favorites.  This amazing fabric is silk organza, with sparkly stars arranged in the constellations.  Chanel did a very similar dress in 1937, but hers was star-shaped sequins on tulle.  Herrera’s updated version even includes star and moon appliques.

There was a lot of black and white.

The lacy concoction is from the same collection as the lacy blouse shown earlier.  Note also that it is another version of Herrera’s beloved white shirt.

The dress in the back is from 2005, and could also have been from 1940.  The short dress in front is from 2007, and the description in the notes merely says, “Black and ivory cocktail dress.”

A closer look shows that this great little dress is constructed of strips of ribbon or trim.  I loved it.

A dress does not have to be over-complicated to be special, as in the case of this wonderful frock.  The asymmetrical stitching on the left side helps to form the first of a series of pleats below the pocket.

There was a section of wedding dresses, and of gowns that were used for a wedding, even though that was not the original intent of the designer.  I loved the blush pink dress, which is based on a trench coat.  The white dress on the pedestal looks like lace, but it is actually a lace design printed onto the silk organza.  And the golden sparkly extravaganza at the far right was worn by Jessica Simpson for her 2014 wedding.

There’s a lot of bustle action here, but what interested me was the textile.  This is one piece of dramatic striped fabric.

The last display contained some show-stopping ball gowns.  I just could not relate to this dress.  There was just too much going on!  And in the photo of the celebrity  (sorry, but I forgot who it was) wearing it, she looked extremely uncomfortable, as if she knew the dress was wearing her instead of the other way around.

I guess the lesson is that when using a dramatic print, the rest of the the design needs to be simple.

In all, there were ninety-nine looks in the exhibition, which really told the story of Herrera’s design history and aesthetic.  The clothes were arranged so that the visitor could get close enough to really examine them.  I’m looking forward to seeing what SCADFASH does next!

Through September 25  at SCADFASH in Atlanta.  Curated by Rafael Gomes.

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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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