Tag Archives: exhibition

Designed for Drama at the Biltmore Estate

For the third spring in a row, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is presenting a costume display in the Vanderbilt mansion.  As before, the exhibition is planned and presented by Cosprop, a British costume shop, well-known for their work in “costume dramas.”  And while this is not, strictly speaking, fashion history, it does give an excellent look at how fashions of the past are portrayed in film.

As before, I went to the Biltmore with friend Liza of Better Dresses Vintage, and this time we were joined by Suzanne of Vintage Runway, and Cornelia of Cornelia Powell Weddings.   I can’t say enough about how enlightening it is to attend events like this one with people who share an interest in fashion history.  I learn as much from my friends as I do from the exhibition.

We went on the opening day of the exhibition, and were happy that it was on a weekday, and not the more crowded weekend.  Before the show opened, Biltmore had placed five (that we located, at least) costumes in the public areas of the estate, not in the house proper.  I really do not know if they will be/have been moved into the house, so I’ll give a hint as where to find those not actually in the house.

The first costume was the one above, worn by Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd. It is in the visitor’s center.  Like all the costumes not actually in Biltmore House, this one is encased in a protective glass cage.  That makes for very poor photo taking, but the actual viewing experience is much better than my photos might suggest.

One thing I wish the production would add to the information given is when the story was supposed to have taken place.  Of course, we can dig deep into that old literary education and come up with rough dates, and we can also use the styles of the clothing, but in order to check for authenticity of style, knowing exactly when would be a big help.

Far from the Madding Crowd was published in 1874, but that does not mean the movie was set in that year.  From looking at many historical drama costumes, I’ve learned that the late 19th century is often loosely interpreted as far as fashion goes.  Above, another costume worn by Mulligan in the role of Bathsheba Everdene.

These costumes are from Finding Neverland, the story of author Sir JM Barrie, played by Johnny Depp, and his relationship with a woman (Kate Winslet) whose children inspired his character Peter Pan.

The movie was set in the last days of the nineteenth century, and the early twentieth century.  This dress was worn by actress Radha Mitchell, who played Barrie’s wife in the film.

You’d never know, but these are costumes from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  This 1996 version was set sometime in the late nineteenth century, but I just could not see these dresses as actually being the style of any particular era.  They were worn by Helena Bonham Carter and Imogen Stubbs.

There were several beautiful dresses designed by John Bright of Cosprop for the 2000 version of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl.

This story was set in the very early days of the twentieth century, and the gowns for it look the most at home within Biltmore House, which was finished in 1895.

This suit was worn by Kate Beckinsale in the role of Maggie Verver.

Well, this was a delightful moment!  Mr. Darcy meets Miss Elizabeth Bennett, not on the lawn, but in the library.  These costumes were from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This is from another Jane Austen story, Sense and Sensibility,  and was worn in a 1995 version starring Emma Thompson.  This dress was worn by her.

This costume is in the Biltmore Wine Shop, which seems a bit odd, but it was positioned such as to allow a really great look from all sides.

And finally for today, this costume was worn by Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, a story not written by Austen, but rather, about her.  It was based on a book of the same title which speculated on a supposed romance that Austen had.  Anyway, this costume was one of my favorites.  All the decoration on the dress was embroidered (but impossible to photograph) and the fabric was the most scrumptious color (again, un-photograph-able).  This costume is on the second floor of the Village Hotel.

I loved how the plaques showed each costume as it was worn in the each film.  It really does help to see them in action.  Which leads to another observation:  I enjoyed the costumes of the films which I had seen better than the ones I had not seen and had no idea of how the actors portrayed the characters.  But now I’ll have the pleasure of catching up on films not seen.

Tomorrow:  the exciting conclusion of this tour.


Filed under Museums

High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum

I spent a lot of time this past spring and early summer looking at the Instagrams of people in San Francisco and being really jealous.  That’s because they were torturing me with their fantastic photos from a traveling exhibition from the Met’s Costume Institute, High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.  So I was delighted to hear that the last showing was to be in Cincinnati, which is only a five hour drive from me.

We decided to wait for a good weekend weather-wise, and that gift came earlier than expected.  Last week we loaded the car and headed north to take in the exhibition, and to explore Cincinnati, a city we’d never before visited.  I’m not going to beat around the bush.  If you are anywhere near Cincinnati before January 24, 2016, when the show closes for good, you must see this exhibition.

This is especially true if you did not have the opportunity to see the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion show last year.  Much of the James material, including some amazing computer deconstructions of the clothing on exhibit is included in this show.  I’ll tell more about that in part two of this review.

The exhibition covers the 20th century, and includes both fashion from Europe and the United States.  Above is the back of a Jeanne Lanvin silver lamé dress, summer 1923.  Many of the garments were arranged so that the front was on view, and then you turned a corner to see the back.  To me the back of this dress was the most interesting, with the obi-like train and its (barely visible) Lanvin blue lining.  The embroidery was made with very thin ribbons.

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Here are what are probably my favorites in the entire show.   The two capes or wraps are from Liberty & Co. of London, and they are effectively displayed over Fortuny dresses.  Both capes are silk brocade, woven in a peacock feather pattern, a design by Liberty textile designer Arthur Silver.

To the right you get a glimpse of two Callot Soeurs ensembles, both made for Rita de Costa Lydig circa 1913.  Lydig was a collector of antique lace which Callot Soeurs used in their work for her.  Note that the “dresses” under the lace vest and tunic are actually pants.

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In the center are two 1920s dresses.  The lace dress is from Jeanne Lanvin, 1925.  The red is from the lesser-known Suzanne Talbot, but it is a real stunner.  Also from 1925, it is made from one long length of silk.


The simple frock on the left is from Jean Patou.  Patou was known for his sports clothes, and was very influential in establishing the sporty look of the 1920s.  The middle evening dress was not attributed, but proves that a dress need not have a label in order to be fabulous.  The beaded and embroidered dress on the right is from designer Edward Molyneux, 1925.

And just in case you were wondering why I included a photo of the Patou, here’s a close-up of the details.  It is a not-so-simple, simple little frock.

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Both of these dresses are by Elsa Schiaparelli, who was well-represented in the exhibition.  That is a very good thing, as Schiaparelli garments are rarely seen, so it was a real treat to see not only the dresses, but also some of her surrealist jewelry.  The butterfly dress and parasol date from 1937. The blue dress is actually appliqued using cut-outs from a fabric printed with seed packets, one of which forms a pocket.  There is an exposed zipper in the back, a common Schiap treatment, one that  has been repeated in recent years.

One of the real stars of the show (no pun, seriously!) was this Schiaparelli jacket from her 1938 Zodiac collection.  The embroidery was by Lesage, the Rolls Royce of French embroiderers.  Simply amazing.


The lovely Grecian creation on the left is from Hungarian-American designer Eta Hentz.  Manufacturing under the name Ren-Eta Gowns, it’s a bit hard to imagine that this dress was ready-to-wear.  1944.

One the right is one of the many Elizabeth Hawes dresses that was in the Brooklyn Museum collection.  When the collection was taken to the Met in 2009, many of the Hawes pieces were deacquisitioned and sent to auction,a move I did not understand considering the rarity of Hawes pieces.  But it is obvious they kept the masterworks if this dress is an example.  Look closely to see that there is gold piping between the pieces that shape the waist, and the shaping continues to the back where the pieces seem to ripple like a waterfall to the hem.  It is a stunning dress.


The dark pink dress (and jacket)  is from Madeleine Vionnet, circa 1935.  It is, of course, made from a bias-cut silk.  The black dress is also by Vionnet.

The white evening dress is from Madame Alix Gres, 1937.  It’s construction is interesting, as each half (left and right) is actually just one long length of uncut fabric that goes from the hem in front, is folded to form the peplum, across the shoulder, folded again, and then to the hem.

The copper dress is also from Madame Gres, and is maybe the oddest Gres I’ve ever seen.  Still, there is plenty of her trademark pleating and volume.

I’ll continue my tour of High Style in my next post.  I want to finish this one by saying what a great job the Met and the Cincinnati Art Museum have done in making this exhibition such a great experience.  The exhibition space was spread out in such a way that one could view the clothes without feeling crowded or rushed.  Most of the clothes were not behind glass, and so it let the visitors get really close to examine the details.  It was simply a great fashion history experience.


Filed under Designers, Museums

Allure of Flowers at Mint Museum

The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC has one of the best costume collections in the Southeast.  They have regular clothing exhibitions at their original location in what was at one time a US Mint, but there is a second location in uptown Charlotte that is more craft oriented.

I’d never been to that location mainly because I hate uptown Charlotte.  During a building boom twenty or so years ago, skyscrapers began to replace the old storefronts on Trade Street.  The result is a pretty soulless place, with plenty of restaurants and banks and such, but few places to shop.  I generally avoid it.  But the Allure of Flowers drew me in.

The exhibition is arranged like a garden, with the objects being arranged according to the type of flower depicted, rather than by the type of craft.  Clothing and textiles were sprinkled throughout the garden, along with ceramics, jewelry, glass, and furniture.  It was interesting seeing how a flower, say a tulip, was interpreted by a Nineteenth century quiltmaker, a 1950s furniture designer, and a modern glass worker.

On the fanciful clothesline is hanging an Emilio Pucci print.  I always think “geometrics” when hearing the name Pucci, but his designs were much more varied than I tend to think.  This print is based on the lotus flower.

I somehow missed the maker of this fantastic light fixture.  There were several of these scattered throughout the hall.

This is just a tiny part of an incredible work by artist Anna Torma.  There are elements of embroidery, weaving, applique, sketching, and collage.

What would the Sixties have been without the daisy motif?  Here we see a great example in a “paper” dress.

This piece is probably my favorite in the exhibition.  It was made in 1929 by Kate Clayton Donaldson of Marble, NC, a tiny town in the far western part of the state.  It is where my father was born in 1926.  Granny Donaldson crocheted the figures and flowers from wool and then appliqued them to a piece of homespun.  Granny Donaldson called these “Cow Blankets” as they reminded her of colorful blankets she had seen on cows in pictures of Italy.  Note the bird at the top of the tree.

This is a small quilt, made for a crib using a technique called broderie Perse, or Persian embroidery.  It isn’t embroidered though; it is appliqued.  The flowers were carefully cut out from cotton chintz fabric and then were applied to a background.

Close-up of above quilt.

Note how this Lilly Pulitzer dress is blooming after being planted in a big pot.  The dress is made from nylon, and was bought in 1970 by Patricia Somerville for a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.

We call shawls of this type Paisley, but the design evolved from floral motifs many years ago.  This example dated to the mid 1800s, and was woven in northern India.

This close-up of a late Nineteenth century crazy quilt shows a variety of flowers both real and fanciful, embroidered over the piecework.

This is one of the most famous of the Marimekko prints – Unikko.  The print is actually celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year.  Marimekko founder and owner Armi Ratia had said that the company would not produce any floral motifs, but one of the designers, Maija Isola, set out to make such a modern flower that Marimekko would have to produce it.  The resulting design is still in production today.

And what would a garden be without a few insects?

Next week I’ll show a bit more of the Mint Uptown and the permanent collection display.  I was thrilled to learn that the museum will be hosting in March an exhibition that is currently on display at the Warhol in Pittsburgh – Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede.



Filed under Museums

Fashioning the New Woman: 1890 – 1925, DAR Museum

When it comes to travel opportunities I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of an opportunist.  Last week I found it necessary to pay a visit to my 93 year old uncle in West Virginia, and I realized I was just a few hours away from Washington, DC.  I had hopes of visiting the city later this summer as there were two exhibitions I really wanted to see.  Instead of waiting, I made a quick trip into the Capital for a day of museum hopping.

First on my list was the Museum at the Daughters of the American Revolution.  That might seem to be an odd place for a fashion exhibition, but the museum has a very nice collection of historic costume, much of it coming from member donations.  What really sold me on a visit was their online exhibition showing the highlights.

The focus of the exhibition was how the changing roles of women led to changes in fashion.  Just a glance at the introductory exhibit tells the story of how the highly styled gown of 1888 slowly changed into the sleek and streamlined 1925 evening dress of sequins and beads, a change made necessary by the more active lifestyles women were leading.

I’ve said it before, but I really do prefer a clothing exhibition that has an historic perspective, rather than one that tries too hard to convince me that fashion is art.  The combination of fashion and history and women’s social issues was to me, an irresistible combination.   The curator presented us with a timeline that showed the changes that took place over the course of the thirty-five years that the exhibition covered, and she included in the notes the things that were significant about each garment.  You could see the bustle disappear, the waistline change, and then disappear.

I also loved that this was not just dresses, but included accessories that included hats, shoes, stockings, bags, and jewelry.   It was interesting to see how the shape of shoes changed as they became visible as skirts rose from the floor.  And many of the dressed mannequins had appropriate hats and shoes to go with the dress.  Also included was a good selection of undergarments.

The day I visited I was there when the museum opened, and when I left, an hour and a half later, there had been only four other visitors to the museum.  Those of us who have been to the big “blockbuster” shows put on by the major museums can appreciate what a better experience this is than having to manage your way along a long line of other viewers, with the exhibits passing by like a moving show.  Here you could stand and contemplate, compare and revisit the entire show at will.  It is the very best kind of museum experience.

Another big plus is that most of the items were not behind glass, so you could get a good view.  And the museum has a very liberal photography policy, with made me happy.

And now for the tour…

The exhibition got off to a great start with this lovely creation by Charles Frederick Worth, 1888.  Think of it as the “before” photo.

And this silver creation would be the “after.”  There was no information on the maker, but it is a spectacular dress.

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I thought this was a great idea – an assemblage of the typical things in an upper class lady’s wardrobe, circa 1900-1905.

A large case containing accessories had a great selection of stockings…

and gloves…

and handbags.

The notes pointed out that the game of golf had become so popular that it was often used to market items that may or may not have been used for the game.

I loved these socks, partly because I have a pair of gloves that have the same ruffled trim.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of 1920s anklets before.

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The timeline was quite informative.

One of the highlights was this lovely dress from the Paris couture House of Doucet.

I’m sorry this shot of the details is so poor, but I had to show it anyway.  What looks like a black inset is actually gold mesh, now tarnished.

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If there was a weakness in the exhibition, it was that there were only two garments from the 1920s.  There seems to be something missing between the last two garments; a dress from 1922-23 would have filled the gap.

There was an exhibit on WWI uniforms…

and clothing worn by suffragettes.

During these years, more and more women were attending college, and here we see three facets of the college woman’s wardrobe:  classroom, gym, and graduation.

The gymsuit is circa 1905.

Woman were also participating in sports, and so specialized clothing was becoming necessary.

The skirt has a hidden pocket in the lining at shin level that holds golfballs.  And note the sweater vest that is so similar to the one pictured on the muffler box shown above.

This was identified as a golf cape – a popular item for golf and for the college campus.

This 1890s sports sweater was one of my favorite items in the exhibition.

The pair of canvas tennis boots are the earliest pair of Keds I’ve ever seen.

And finally, a nice riding habit and wool bathing suit.  I’m not so sure that it would have been a good idea to actually try to dive while wearing it though!

The DAR Museum is located on the corner of 17th Street and D Street.  It is open Monday through Saturday and there is also a fantastic history library and rooms decorated in historic styles.  Fashioning the New Woman will be open until August 31, 2013.


Filed under Museums

Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones at the Bard Graduate Center

One of the things I’ve been preaching is that you need to look for fashion where you live.  Even here in the mountains of North Carolina, there are some incredible textile and fashion resources, and more still within a few hours drive.

But still, I do get jealous whenever I read about some of the fashion history opportunities available to those of you in the big cities of this world.  The current envy-inducing show is at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.  This exhibition, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones started out at the Victoria and Albert in London, and is now at the Bard Graduate Center through April 15, 2012.

Milliner Jones has curated an exhibit that was pulled from collections across the world.  Among the 250 or so hats are included a baseball cap worn by Babe Ruth, a pair of Mouseketeer ears, and hats designed to be worn with couture collections.  There is even a hat with the William J. label, which was the short-lived label of photographer Bill Cunningham.  To see some of the exhibits, there is a slideshow at New York Magazine.

In conjunction with the show, the Bard Graduate Center has planned a series of special events including talks and lectures about, of course, hats.  As a special bonus to The Vintage Traveler readers, the BGC is offering $5 off the $20 addmission to a special lecture, Est-ce un chapeau? (The Surrealist Hat) with Dilys Blum  which is on Thursday, November 17, at 6 pm.

“This lecture by textile curator Dilys Blum explores the Surrealist hat from its origins in the art of the Dada and Surrealist movements through its fashionable incarnations in the work of Elsa Schiaparelli and others from the 1930s through the 1950s and, most recently, by contemporary designers such as Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy.  Dilys Blum is senior curator of costume and textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

To register, email:  programs@bgc.bard.edu,  or call 212.501.3011.  Indicate promotional code HATS EXHIBITION/BLOG READER.

For a full listing of the special events, there is an online program brochure.   General admission is $7, but the BGC is open late on Thursday evenings, and it is free after 5 pm.  You can’t beat that deal!





Silk and Straw Bonnet

Graham Smith


Caroline Reboux


Michael of Lachasse

Caroline Reboux

All images courtesy of the Bard Graduate Center

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