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High Style is one of those exhibitions that has a surprise at every turn. The black (actually dark green, but it looks black) dress is by Elizabeth Hawes, and it was dubbed “The Tarts” dress by its creator. Dating from 1937, it was thought to be suggestive, with that arrow pointing toward the breasts. On the back of the dress there is a purple arrow that points downward to the butt.
The white and black dress was designed by Madame Eta Hentz. Lynn at American Age Fashion recent wrote about visiting the Madame Eta archive at the FIT library. Interestingly, one of the garments Lynn showed was the dress above, so I really enjoyed seeing it. One thing I’d not noticed in the photos I had seen of this dress is that the over-lapping “wings” were semi-detached, and so there would have been a bit of movement in the design.
The exhibition was not just about dresses; accessories were well represented. All the hats above are from milliner Sally Victor. The hat in the middle looks like an elaborate braided hairstyle and dates from 1937. The red and green hat at the right had the green jersey forming a turban in the back.
Even sportswear can be high style, especially in the hands of Bonnie Cashin and Carolyn Schnurer. The plaid ensemble is from Cashin, and looks as if it could be from the late 1960s. The date is actually 1943, which shows how Cashin remained true to her design aesthetic throughout her career. Note the little matching spats.
Carolyn Schnurer designed resortwear based on textiles she found in her international travels. The two garments above were from her “Flight to India” collection of 1950. You can see the Indian influence in the sari-like draping and in the textile.
I hate that this photo is so blurry, as this ensemble from Claire McCardell is so wonderful. The striped hooded top is made from jersey, while the skirt is cotton poplin. The hooded coat is reversible, with one side being jersey, and the other brown poplin. No wonder her designs were so popular.
All three dresses above were designed by Gilbert Adrian. The two on the left show how Adrian worked with unusual colors combinations, much in the way an artist would. The tiger striped dress reveals Adrian’s roots as a Hollywood designer in a design that would have been right at home on an actress. Actually, all three dresses belonged to an actress, Adrian’s wife, Janet Gaynor.
Here are more hats from Sally Victor. On the left is one of the hats Victor made based on the art of Mondrian, and next to it is one with Matisse-like cutouts. The hat that looks a bit like an upside down pie crust was actually called the “Airwave” and was designed for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in 1952. The First Lady had the hat in several color combinations (the lining being in a contrasting color) and it was available to the public as well.
Most of the designers represented so far in my tour have been women, but men designers were featured as well. The dress on the left was designed by Geoffrey Beene around 1965. Would it be too matchy-matchy to have worn that Sally Victor Matisse hat with this dress? Look carefully at the hem to see that it was scalloped, and that it was lined in bright pink.
The dotted bubble hemmed dress with the red coat was designed by Arnold Scaasi in 1961. Next to it is a 1955 silk evening dress from James Galanos. That dress looked to be so light that it would be blown away in a slight breeze. And finally, there is a pants for evening ensemble by Norman Norell, a revolutionary idea in 1970.
One of the highlights of this exhibition was the inclusion of quite a few garments from Charles James along with the digital deconstruction videos that were developed by the Met for the big Charles James show in 2014. These videos incorporated x-rays of the dresses which showed the complex structure of the garments, as well as pattern pieces that magically formed the finished garment on display. It was highly effective.
Two of the celebrated “Four Leaf Clover” gowns were on display. As with some of the other dresses, this one had no visible means of support, and you could see the interior of the bodice.
I’m not much of a lace-wearer, but for some reason I love seeing techniques of lace application. The way the lace was molded to the dress was truly amazing.
Another highlight of the James display was the inclusion of some of the original working muslin patterns. On the left is one of his ribbon dresses, a development of an idea he had gotten from a stash of wide antique ribbons he found in Paris. On the right is his pattern in muslin.
The pieced “ribbons” on the right continue around to the back of the dress where they come to a point, with the back pieces fitting neatly under the front. High style, indeed!
If you are planning to see High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I suggest that you plan for the whole day. To see High Style, taking your time and taking in all the information presented takes at least two hours (unless you were in the tour groups that breezed through in twenty minutes). Plus, the rest of the museum is really great. I was there four hours and could have stayed longer.
Admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is, incredibly, free, though parking is $4. They do have a nice gift store, and I’m sure they depend on it to help support the museum. I bought the companion book to the exhibition at the museum though I knew I could have gotten it cheaper through Amazon. I consider the extra price to be a donation.