Category Archives: Museums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Museum of the City of New York

The great thing about New York City is that no matter how many times one visits, there is always something new to see.  Even visits to old favorite museums are fresh because of temporary exhibitions.  But sometimes I just like to pick a place I’ve never before seen and see if it can go onto my favorites list.

The Museum of the City of New York was added to my list of places to visit on this past trip.  Actually, I’ve been meaning to visit for years, but it is located far uptown, and I just never seemed to make it.   This time I put it first, mainly because I wanted to see their exhibition, Gilded New York, in which the wonders of the Gilded Age are on display.

Gilded New York was a small exhibition, packed full of the riches of the 1 percent of late Victorian New Yorkers.  I was disappointed that there was only one dress, but it was a magnificent example, being made by the House of Worth in Paris.  This circa 1897 dress was made from satin and voided velvet and decorated with glass pearls, Bruges lace, silk fringes and trim, and anything else Worth could fit onto it.

Note how you can see the back of the dress in the mirror.

While there was only the one dress, there were jewels aplenty, many of them crafted by the famous jewelers who catered to New York’s wealthy.  An excellent example was the gold necklace seen above, decorated with diamonds, pearls, and turquoise.   It was made by Tiffany and Company.

Fine jewelry was not just for the ladies.  These buttons from France were made of hunting scenes etched onto mother of pearl.

The elite of New York loved to travel the Continent, and they left a trail of dollars in their wake.  A popular purchase was fine jewelry that was reminiscent of recent archaeological finds.  The items shown above came from Italy.

This looks like a crown, but it actually a bracelet.  Made of glass micro mosaic and wire work, it dates from 1865.  I’ve got this on my Christmas list.

There was much more to this exhibition than jewels and one fine dress.  There were paintings and silver and mansion ornaments galore.  And despite the very small scope of what was on exhibit, I really enjoyed my time in the Gilded Age.

In sharp contrast to Gilded New York was an exhibition on activism in the city, Activist New York.  This exhibition covered a wide range of issues that have brought out the activist in the New Yorker, from the issue of religious in the colonial days to more recent issues like historic preservation and environmental problems.

I was most interested in a section about the role of women garment makers in the fight for shorter working hours, fair wages, and the right to organize.  In 1909 a meeting of mainly women workers led to a strike  known as  the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand.”  Smaller garment making companies were forced to give in, and even the large makers, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Company made concessions to the strikers in order to get them back to work.

Much of the story was told by use of a digital slide show using vintage photographs.

Of course the strike of 1909 did not solve all the problems associated with the city’s garment industry.  Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union kept the pressure on factory owners for years, which led to legislation concerning safety, wages, and child labor.

The exhibitions are always changing, and I was sorry to miss a new one that opened last week, Everything Is Design, The Work of Paul Rand.  There are also fashion exhibitions from time to time, including one a couple of years ago that featured the 1970s fashions of New York designer Stephen Burrows.

Don’t go to the Museum of the City of New York expecting a comprehensive retelling of the city’s history.  Instead, expect carefully thought-out thematic exhibitions like the two I’ve described.  They do show an excellent film that tells the city’s history in twenty-five minutes, and I strongly suggest that visitors watch it first.

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Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

I’ve been really eager to visit the Smithsonian Design Museum, the Cooper Hewitt ever since I discovered their Object of the Day feature.  Unfortunately for me, the museum had been closed for renovations during my last two trips to New York, but because it has recently reopened I put it at the top of my visit list.  I’m so glad I did, as it was one of the highlights of my New York trip.

While the Smithsonian collections are more associated with Washington, DC than with New York, it is quite appropriate that this branch of the museum is located in New York City.  The core of the collection and the idea of a museum of design started with two New York sisters, Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, granddaughters of railroad pioneer Peter Cooper.  Cooper had founded the Cooper Union school in New York, a free institution of learning in the fields of applied sciences, such as engineering and architecture.

In 1895 the Hewitt sisters decided to start a working collection of design for the school, and the next year the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration was opened.  The women, being products of the Gilded Age, had traveled widely and had collected objects that they thought to be great examples of design.  The collection included everything from textiles to bird cages.

The sisters were aided in their collecting by rich friends, such as J.P. Morgan and members of the Astor family.  The members of their social class often remembered the collection in their wills, and so the collection continued to grow.  The sisters died in 1924 and 1930, but the museum continued on at Cooper Union until 1963, when the museum was closed.  Public outcry led to the collection being acquired by the Smithsonian in 1968.  In 1970 it was moved to its present location, the Andrew Carnegie mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

It is worth a visit to Cooper Hewitt just to see Carnegie’s “understated” mansion.  While the house looks quite extravagant to our modern eyes, by Gilded Age standards it was understated.  At the top you can the main staircase in the house.

There were quite a few exhibitions going on at Cooper Hewitt, but to me the topper was Hewitt Sisters Collect, a sampling of the original collection assembled by Sarah and Eleanor.  The French parchment and ivory fan above is a good example of what the sisters acquired, possibly on one of their trips to France.

There were several 19th century bandboxes in the collection.  This one, a scene of Sandy Hook Lighthouse, was gifted to the collection in 1913.

This piece of silk on linen embroidery was given to the collection by J.P. Morgan in 1902.  The piece is from the 17th century, and is Portuguese.  Can you see the centaurs shooting arrows at dragons?

Here is another textile from the Morgan gift.  It’s a French brocade, circa 1700.  To see more photos of each of these objects and to learn more about them, click on the links I’ve provided.  They go to the Cooper-Hewitt website, where every object in the exhibition is pictured.  It’s a remarkable resource, and it’s not just for the Hewitt Sisters Collect exhibition.  Almost every item on display in the museum has a page on the website that tells more about it and shows more photos.

Making Design fills a large gallery and pulls items from the collection to illustrate the elements of design: line, form, texture, pattern, and color.  It’s my understanding that the items in the exhibition will change, so more of the extensive collection can be seen.

This hanging was made by artist and weaver Lenore Tawney in linen wool and silk in 1959 and 1960.

The textile, called Abacus, was designed by artist Paul Rand in 1946. He used an actual abacus and laid it on photographic paper to create the design.

This is a bound volume of the 1924 issues of French fashion periodical, Gazette du Bon Ton.  The illustration, or pochoir, is of three Jeanne Lanvin fancy ball costumes.  Illustration by Georges Lapape.

What looks like a 1960s pop art textile is actually a piece of a mid 19th century hand woven overshot coverlet made in Georgia.

From Japanese designer Issey Miyake we have a folding skirt and top.  See the origami-looking square on the floor?  It unfolds into a garment like the pieces on the mannequin.  To see how it works, you’ve got to see the videos (scroll down the linked page to see them).

Anyone care to guess what this item is?  You can find the answer in the on-line exhibition, but guessing might be more fun.  I’ll give the correct answer tomorrow. Hint:  it is not a textile.

Cooper Hewitt has lots of fun activities for visitors to become immersed in the design process.  In a room called the Process Lab, I took a stab at making a jacket more high tech by adding a pocket for a cell phone on the sleeve and built-in gloves with conductive finger-tips.  I wish I’d thought of a solar panel on the back that powered a heating system in the jacket.  That is what I really needed for the frigid New York weather!

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Fashion Journal – Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Met

Almost ten years ago some online friends and I were discussing the newest thing on the internet – the blog.  It’s hard to imagine today when there are millions of blogs, including quite a few  “written” by cats, that a mere decade ago most people had never even heard of blogging, much less had read or written one.

But we were looking for a new way to share different aspects of the things concerning fashion history that interested us.  I had started a journal in which I recorded the things I saw and loved at fashion exhibitions.  Originally this blog was only scans of the pages from that journal, along with a very few comments.  I only posted once a month or so.

Soon I began thinking about the other things that I was learning that ought to be shared.  I began showing my vintage finds, along with pretty much writing my thoughts out loud.  Not that anyone much besides my fellow blogging buddies were actually reading the blog, which was originally called Lizzie’s Vintage Travel Journal.

Time passed, my friends went on to other adventures, but I kept blogging.  Eventually I stopped showing my journal pages.  I can’t say exactly why, but it was probably because I was doing reviews of all the exhibitions I saw anyway.  And even though I stopped showing the pages, I’ve kept on making them.

I find that physical journaling is a very different activity from writing a blog, even though a blog is a type of journal.  My journal contains many different types of work from drawing to cut out pictures to collage.  Many of the drawings are done on site, and if I know that a particular museum is drawer-friendly (in other words, there are places to sit) I’ll take my journal along on the visit.  In cases where I know I’ll not have time to stand or sit and draw, the journal stays at home and the pages are made there.

In celebration of my ten year anniversary I’ve decided to reinstate the original concept for a day every month or so.  I have a lot of exhibits to catch up on from the years when I did not post them.  Some are better than others, but all show what I found to be of interest in each exhibition.  You can see my older entries by looking at the “Journal” category in the side bar.

The first exhibition I’m showing is one that I did not really like, Punk: Chaos to Couture, at the Met.  I even had a hard time coming up with a concept with which to work in the journal.  Finally, I decided to just focus on two things I found to be interesting.

From the box at the top which you can’t read:

The very early punk tees by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were fantastic, but Widow McLaren claims most of them are fakes.

Should I go into the fake punk tee business?

 

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Museum Selfie Day

In case you missed it, January 21 was Museum Selfie Day, a selfie being a photo a person takes of him or her self.  The development of the cell phone camera that can take photos both forward and backward has made taking one’s own photo very easy. Instagram and twitter have given the selfie an audience.

Quite a bit has been written about the practice of selfies in museums.  As you probably would expect, writers are divided in their opinions on the practice.

Those who oppose the practice say that selfies are akin to notches on a gun.  In a culture where many seem to think that if you don’t have a photograph of yourself doing something, then it really didn’t happen.  Each selfie is a notch on the gun of life, proof that one has actually seen a landmark or a work of art.  In addition, selfies are distracting to other museum-goers.  It’s hard to seriously contemplate Rembrandt when people and their cellphones keep getting between you and the art.

But what really seems to bug some critics is that museums are supposed to be “serious” places of learning.  The constant snapping of photos is replacing the proper examination of art.

On the other hand, supporters of museum selfies argue that the practice is a good way to get people to actively engage with art.  Taking a good selfie requires that the photographer study the work of art carefully.  And allowing selfies might encourage participation by reluctant museum visitors (teenagers) who might otherwise be focused on texting friends or playing the latest online game  while the family tours the museum.

If my twitter feed is any indication, many museums have embraced the day.  Institutions large and small tweeted their support of #MuseumSelfieDay.   I’m sure that some of them have decided that “If you can’t beat them, then join them.”  Camera phones are not going to go away and people are going to use them.  More and more museums have taken down the no photos signs, partly because it’s just too difficult to police camera usage.

But other museums seem to be genuinely delighted that they have their own social media day.  They have people on their staffs who see social media for what it is, a part of people’s lives that is here to stay.  They already have accounts on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, and so are reaching a lot of people that way.  Having an event like #MuseumSelfieDay allows a museum to use those accounts to encourage visitors to come in and participate.

This is only the second year of #MuseumSelfieDay, so I suppose it is a bit early to see if the promotion is having any effect on attendance on that day.  But there seemed to be good participation, so if you are serious about your museum visits, I suggest you not plan one for selfie day next year.

In looking for a photo for this post I realized that while I don’t have a museum selfie of myself, I do have lots of photographs from museum visits.  Ever since the camera became available to travelers, it has been used to document their journeys.  In looking back at a lifetime of travel photos I find that the most interesting ones are the ones that contain images of my family and friends, and to be honest, me.   And in collecting vintage photos, it is the people in each that makes it interesting.

Consider the photo of my husband that I used to illustrate.  Would the photo of the sculpture be as meaningful to me if he were not sitting there?  I doubt that without his presence that I’ve even remember where the photo was taken, but with him sitting there the events of an entire day come flooding back into conscious memory.  We had spent the day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and had finished up by spending the last hours of the afternoon touring the museum there.  The bears provided a welcome resting spot and a good photo opportunity.

I really don’t see the selfie as a new phenomenon, but rather as a new version of an old one.  While I don’t feel the need to photograph myself at every place I go, I can’t help but look at photos taken decades ago and get pleasure from seeing my face on the road, having fun.

Me, 1999

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Waist Management: A History of Unmentionables

The Fashion History Museum has a newly opened exhibition at the  Peel Art Gallery Museum in Brampton, Ontario,  Waist Management  It’s all about how undergarments have been used to help women achieve a fashionable silhouette, something that is apparent in just one photo from the display.

A while back I wrote about selling items from my collection and how I’d do it only if I were convinced that the person wanting an item wanted it more than I.  The truth is I’ve also been known to actually give things away if I know someone needs it.

Back in the very early days of Ebay I was smart enough (actually that would be lucky enough) to buy a bit of the lingerie line that Emilio Pucci designed for Formfit Rogers.  At the time it was considered to be a poor alternative to the wonderful silk jersey vintage Puccis that were already getting nice ending prices on the auction site, but the lingerie was cheap and so I bought a few miscellaneous pieces.

After the onslaught of fast fashion made of tissue paper thin poly, the thin nylon Formfit Puccis soared in price.  They were seen not only as wearable clothing, but gained deserved respect as a part of fashion history.

Several months ago I was mindlessly browsing the site I love to hate, Pinterest, and noticed that the Fashion History Museum had begun posting parts of the collection.  In their lingerie section was a Pucci Formfit Rogers matching bra and girdle.  I was pretty sure I had a matching piece, and a quick look through my catalog revealed that I did have a matching robe.

I emailed Jonathan at the museum to ask if he would like to have my piece for the museum’s collection, and of course he did.  I sent it off along with another donation and an ad that showed that this design dates to 1969.

I was delighted to get the photo in my inbox last night.  Knowing that something I had accumulated is now being used to educate others about fashion history is a great feeling.

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Emilio Pucci in America, Georgia Museum of Art

Emilio Pucci skiing at Reed College in the uniform he designed for the ski team there, 1937. Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

Yesterday I took a museum day.  The Georgia Museum of Art in Athens had just opened a new fashion exhibition and I was anxious to see it.  The topic was Emilio Pucci, who needs no introduction from me.  What many might be surprised to know is that Pucci actually attended the University of Georgia in Athens after transferring from the University of Milan.  He then went on to Reed College in Oregon.

As the title tells us, the exhibition was not a comprehensive study of the career of Emilio Pucci, nor was it a history of the company.  It was about how the Italian Pucci had relationships with American institutions and companies.  The exhibition is quite small, and there are a few gaps in what was displayed, but overall it gives an excellent view of Pucci’s American relationships.  Photos were not allowed (although there was no sign stating such, and it took getting my hand slapped to find it out) and the photos supplied for press do not show any of the clothes as they are displayed, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to use your imagination somewhat.

Probably the best known collaboration between Pucci and an American company was that with the lingerie company, Formfit Rogers.  Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s Pucci designed undergarments and sleeping attire for Formfit.  On exhibit was a panty girdle, and four matching lingerie pieces in blue.

Braniff hostess modeling in a pink Pucci uniform holding an umbrella standing in the front part of a jet engine. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Between 1965 and 1974, Pucci designed uniforms for the stewardesses of Braniff Airlines.  The ensembles included everything from head to toe: hats, scarves,dresses,tunics,pants, leggings, shoes, and boots.  Archival photos show that the stewardesses were allowed to mix and match the pieces, though the staff was provided with clothing that corresponded to various activities and which involved two in-air clothing changes.

Braniff hostess wearing a pink Pucci uniform and a bubble helmet standing in front of a Concorde airplane at the Paris Airshow, 1967. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

The exhibition had this tunic, and it also had the plastic bubble hood.  Archival photos show that the women often wore the tights with a solid dress.

Group photo of early Emilio Pucci hostesses uniforms for Braniff. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas

Group photo of early Emilio Pucci hostesses uniforms for Braniff. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas

The bubble hood was only used for a short period because of its tendency to malfunction.

My favorite outfit from the exhibition was a circa 1955 two-piece swimsuit and matching cape that Pucci designed for Canadian-American swimsuit designer Rose Marie Reid.  The print was a tiny Venice theme, and while I could not find a photo of it online, there is a similar Reid piece for sale.  That set just went to the very top of my wishlist.

I was really hoping that there would be some of the very rare pieces that Pucci did for White Stag in 1948.  They did have the copy of the Harper’s Bazaar in which the pieces were shown, but no actual garments.  And there was no mention of the mid 1950s collaboration between Pucci and the McCall’s Pattern Company, nor was there any mention of the patterns he did for Vogue in the 1960s and 70s.

Even though this exhibition was quite small, I’m glad I took the time to go see it.  The clothing was very well presented, and the lighting was good enough so that the details could be easily examined.  It is well worth a drive if you are in Georgia or the western Carolinas.

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