Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Currently Reading – Empress of Fashion, Diana Vreeland

This biography of Diana Vreeland has been out since 2012, and I’d been meaning to get it and read it, but it was not until I ran across a copy in a used bookstore that I was reminded to do so.  So much has been written about Vreeland that I feel she needs little introduction.  As far as fashion is concerned, she held three main positions: American fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar 1939 through 1962, associate editor then editor in chief at Vogue 1962 through 1971, and Special Consultant at the Costume Institute from 1972 until 1986.

What makes this biography so good is that Stuart somehow managed to cut through all the fantasy Vreeland had built around her life to give a true picture of what really transpired.  Vreeland was never one to be bothered with factual truth; she was more interested in the essence of truth.  To really understand this, I suggest reading Vreeland’s DV before reading Empress of Fashion.

As much as I love losing myself in vintage fashion magazines – the fruit of Vreeland’s labor from 1936 through 1971 – it is her time at the Costume Institute that I find to be the most interesting.  After being fired by Vogue in 1971, Vreeland was at loose ends when the opportunity to organize exhibitions for the Met’s Costume Institute came her way.  Her official title was that of Special Consultant, but she was actually acting as curator of exhibitions.

From the beginning, Vreeland’s approach to fashion exhibition was unorthodox.  She was not interested in chronology, nor in the construction of garments.  Her belief was that the important thing was the mood that clothing portrayed.  She never let historical facts get in the way of how an exhibition should feel to the visitor to the museum.  The curatorial staff at the Costume Institute often went behind Vreeland, correcting  anachronisms and historical errors.

Despite her dismissal of a factual approach, Mrs. Vreeland  did not believe that fashion was art.  As she put it, “People say a little Schiaparelli design is an art form.  Why can’t it just be a very good dress?”  And that, to me is the essence of Mrs. Vreeland’s contribution to fashion display.  Fashion should be seen as an important part of a  culture, and whether or not it is art makes no difference.

Vreeland transformed the Costume Institute from an afterthought at the Met to a department that brought in the crowds.  Many of her exhibitions broke attendance records, and brought needed attention to fashion studies and the display of dress.  Still, many did not agree with her methods.  The director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London  wrote in 1983, “… We are all totally opposed to Diana Vreeland’s degradation of fashion.”

But no matter, as Diana continued doing what she did best, creating exhibitions that inspired designers and delighted the public.  And while I might prefer a more factual approach to fashion curation, I can certainly appreciate how much she did for the discipline.

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Currently Viewing: The First Monday in May

Theatrical one-sheet for THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Something that always strikes me as ironic about fashion movies is that we are always advised that fashion is art, while at the same time we are reminded that fashion is commerce.   Not that the two cannot peacefully co-exist, as we are also told in The First Monday in May.  That’s just the first of many fashion truisms that the viewer is exposed to in this 2016 documentary on the annual Met Gala which is a fund-raiser for the Costume Institute.

I had not been anxious to watch this one, as my interest in galas and celebrities is so low, but throw in the Costume Institute and the availability of the film on Netflix and I decided it was worth a try.  As it turns out, I’ve watched it twice, not because it is so good, but because of what it reveals about the relationship between Vogue and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and the Costume Institute and curator Andrew Bolton.

First of all, I’m glad that Wintour has been so effective at raising money for the Costume Institute.  In 2015 alone, $12.5 million was raised.  It’s obvious that she is an excellent manager, and her brusqueness seems to me to be a characteristic of a person who just wants to get things done.  In the film there was a not so sly segue from Anna May Wong as the Dragon Lady, to Wintour.  Can’t we just get past the fact that here is a woman who has a lot to do and who can’t spend her time pussyfooting around feelings?

Apparently not, and it seems a bit odd seeing how The First Monday in May was co-produced by the director of special events at Vogue, Sylvana Ward Durrett.  It seems very unlikely that a woman who worked so closely with Wintour would portray her in any light other than the one Wintour wanted.  In fact, knowing of Durrett’s involvement in the film puts a whole other light on it.  She also is a major player in the movie, as the planner of the gala.

A scene from THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

But what I found to be most interesting was how much input Wintour had on the exhibition itself.  In the photo above, (taken from the press kit on The First Monday in May website) you see Wintour looking over the projected exhibition.  Months before the opening, Bolton is seen showing Wintour a montage of photos of the clothing that was to be included in the show.  She is shown giving approval (or not) at every step of the process.

As Wintour herself explained it, “Andrew is a real visionary and our job is to help him execute his creative genius.”   She did not make clear exactly who she meant went using the pronoun “our.”

I’ve always suspected that Wintour has a lot of influence in the Costume Institute shows.  It’s always been a bit puzzling as why, when the Institute has one of the best collections of historical clothing in the world, that so many of the more recent shows rely on clothing from the 21st century, much of which is borrowed from the design houses.  Putting so much focus on recent clothing would certainly help boost the current fashion industry, something that is also the mission of Vogue.

The exhibition in 2015 was China Through the Looking Glass, about how designers have used the historical view of China as an influence.  Heavily represented were Alexander McQueen, John Galliano for Dior, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, and John Paul Gaultier.  Less represented were historical artifacts from the Met’s own collection, though I did see a 1920s Lanvin and a group of Poiret dresses, a 1920s embroidered shawl, and two dresses from the 1950s.  I’m sure there were more (I did not see this show in person) but considering there were around 150 garments in the show, the few I spotted are definitely in the minority.

It just seems like so much of the permanent holdings of the Costume Institute never sees the light of day.  Considering how Chinese culture has been an influence on Western fashion for centuries, I feel quite certain in saying that this exhibition could have pulled almost entirely from the Met’s own collection.  But then without all the current designer’s work being represented in the exhibition, how could one get them to the gala, and especially how could they get them to pay for one of the sponsor tables?

It all seems so cozy, with the designers and their muses touring the exhibition, looking for their own work.

The film shows the large banquet, where designers, sponsors and celebrities seem to just fall into place.  That’s because the seating was not just carefully arranged, but agonized over.  For weeks the seating chart was arranged and rearranged.  To me, this was the most cringe-inducing part of the entire movie, with Durrett explaining to Wintour, “These are people I’m hoping will just go away,” and Wintour referring to seating “…somebody better here…”  In the end, actress Chloe Sevigny was a big loser, being seated at a “bad table.”  The look on her face when she realized she had been exiled to Siberia was made even sadder when she said, “I’m going to be all by my lonesome just like in high school.”

While so much of the movie is about the planning of the gala, quite a bit of time is also devoted to Andrew Bolton and his process of working through the plan of the exhibition.  This might have been interesting if not for the constant hand wringing over whether “others” at the museum considered fashion to be art.  By others, I guessing Bolton was primarily referring to the curator of East Asian art, who was supposedly in a collaboration with the Costume Institute for this exhibition.  This curator repeatedly voiced his concerns about how the objects in his department were going to be used, and each conversation seemingly ended with Bolton yet again whining about how fashion was so misunderstood in the Met.

It occurred to me that it might not be a good idea to go on so on camera about colleagues not respecting you, especially with words like, “Some people have a very 19th century idea of what art is.”  And even at the very end, when the installation was complete and was looking over the top marvelous, the Asian art curator congratulated Bolton, but Andrew very ungraciously dismissed the other curator and turned to his partner for a hug.

Frankly, I’m sick to death of the “Is fashion art?” question.  As long as people are lining the halls of the museum to see fashion, who cares.

I could actually go on longer with this, as I’ve not even touched on how questions of appropriation and culture were handled, but I’m over my word limit.  I suggest you watch The First Monday in May, not as a lover of fashion history, but with the goal of looking for the great bits.  I loved seeing inside the fashion conservation department.  There is an interesting interview with John Galliano.  But best of all is when the late Bill Cunningham congratulates Bolton, but makes the faux pas of bringing up the ghost of Diana Vreeland.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Filed under Journal, Museums