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Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, at the Titanic in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Of all the unlikely places to see six dresses from early twentieth century designer Lucile, Pigeon Forge is one of the most unlikeliest. But that’s where I did see them, in an exhibit at the Titanic attraction located there. (For those of you in the Midwest, there is also a Titanic in Branson, Missouri, and they too have an exhibit of Lucile dresses this summer.

Lucile opened her dressmaking business, Lucile, Ltd, in 1891. She was a leading designer of the first two decades of the twentieth century and, along with her business in London, opened branches in New York in 1910, Paris in 1911. and Chicago in 1915.

She was known for the lovely tea gowns she designed for her high society and celebrity clients. She herself was a member of this class, having married Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon in 1900. Lady Duff Gordon was probably most associated with dancer Irene Castle, but she also designed for the stage, including “The Merry Widow” in 1907 (which started a trend for the “Merry Widow” hat) and for Ziegfeld’s Follies.

Lucile’s designs had a soft extravagance about them that, after the end of WWI, was out of step with the needs of modern women.  Her London business restructured in 1918, and in 1922 she was no longer a part of the London branch of the business she had founded. Lady Duff Gordon continued working in the US and Paris, with the Paris branch not closing until 1933 .   (Adapted from the biography I wrote for the Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource)

In 1912, Lucile and Sir Duff Gordon were traveling to New York on the Titanic. They ended up with ten others on a lifeboat meant for forty persons, which caused a bit of animosity toward the designer, and they were even accused of bribing the crew members in the lifeboat to avoid plucking survivors from the water. They were called to testify at the official inquiry into the sinking, and were found to be innocent of the charges.

So with this strong connection between Lucile and the Titanic, it is easy to see why the attraction is displaying some of her designs. Most of them were loaned by Lucile collector Randy Bigham, and one is from the collection of the Fashion History Museum. Three of the dresses are in a re-created first class parlor room, and it is these dresses that are seen to their best advantage. The other three, as seen in my photo above, are in a little room behind glass. This made for tricky viewing.

No photos were allowed, so I’m having to rely on press photos from the attraction. Unfortunately, there is only the one photo of the three dresses above, and so you are just going to have to take my word on the details of each.

Afternoon dress, black velvet, green ribbon, metallic silk flowers. 1909-10  Lucile-London branch  (imported by Wanamaker’s, New York & Philadelphia)

I’ll start with this most unlikely Lucile dress.  Described as a late afternoon gown, the black velvet was a nice change from all the light blue and white of the other dresses.

This has to be the most “Lucile” dress ever, with the soft color, lace bodice, front bow, and short over-shirt. This frock really does tick all the Lucile design boxes.

Summer afternoon dress, white organdy and batiste, blue and white pinstriped silk.  1915  Lucile-New York branch

Here is where I get into some deep photo regret. I loved this day dress so much, and the photo absolutely does not begin to show how special it is. First of all, the stripe that reads as white is actually blue. It is a stunning textile and you can’t even see how sweet the bodice is. The buttons are crochet covered balls, an often seen feature in Edwardian attire.

Fortunately, the other three dresses are better represented in the photographs.

This 1911 wedding dress is in the Fashion History Museum’s collection. It’s a real stunner, with layers of lace and net and gauze, all topped with pearls and beads and handcrafted flowers.

I’m grateful that the Titanic press photos included the close up shots of this dress as it does give you the best view of just how lovely all these dresses are.

That’s the train of this dress on the left. At the exhibit the mirror is set up so as to see the back of this gown, but it is so far away from the viewer that it has little effect. Still, how about that bow!

Evening dress, cream chiffon and satin, beads, silk flower appliques. Formerly owned by Darnell Collection. 1910-1912 (Probably 1911) Lucile-New York branch.

Lovely beading, more constructed flowers, and a pretty blue bow.

And here’s the rear view. The clothes are arranged to give a limited view of the backs of these three dresses.

Wedding gown, ivory silk tulle and satin, gold metallic lace, worn June 22, 1921 by Freida Heinrich on marriage to Robert Bollei.  1921  Lucile-New York branch

This pretty thing was worn by Freida Heinrich in 1921. By that time Lucile was nearing the end of her association with the firm that bore her name.

Again, this dress was much more impressive in person. When viewing the dress, the lace looked to be gold, and Randy Bigham confirmed that the lace is gold even though the photo makes it look silver. No matter, because this dress sparkles.

In this back view you can see the layers and the embroidery a bit better.

In the very scanty exhibition notes, this dress was mis-attributed as belonging to the Fashion History Museum. It is actually in the collection of Randy Bryan Bigham. The mistake is most unfortunate as it makes me question all the visitor notes.

Click to enlarge

The blue dress on the far left is a reproduction and you can really tell by comparing it to the fabrics and laces of the originals.

Besides the dresses there was a Lucile hat, a perfume bottle and packaging, and best of all, a 1916 catalog of the adaptations Lucile designed for Sears, Roebuck. I’m pretty sure the catalog was a reproduction because it was out in the open and nobody yelled at me as I stood and looked through it. The designs for Sears were mainly day dresses and suits, and they were quite nice. They were expensive, though. One suit was $49.95, which the inflation calculator tells me would be around $510 in today’s dollar.

I really think that the Titanic people should have combined the Lucile artifacts from both locations so there would have been a better showing. With twelve dresses instead of just six, a fashion lover would feel more like she’d gotten her $29 worth. Yes, it costs $29 to tour the Faux-tanic, and though there are lots of other things to see and interactive stuff to play with, to me all that was secondary. Let’s be honest – this is an attraction, not a museum, though they have done a decent job presenting the artifacts on exhibit.

I think the big lesson here is that there is no comparison between looking at photos of garments and actually seeing them.  In person, the special-ness of Lucile’s work is obvious. You can almost feel the richness of the fabrics, laces, and embroideries. None of this translates in even the best photos.

All photos are provided by the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Please don’t use these photos on other sites, as they do not belong to me.

Update: I switched the dating of two dresses and have now fixed the error.

Randy Bigham has provided me with dating, fabrication, and labeling details which I have added as photo captions. Also from Randy:

“Two things that are just FYIs – Lady Duff Gordon was chief designer for Lucile until she left the house in Aug. 1922; there were issues with assistant designers turning out garments of which she did not approve but this mainly occurred in the last few months before her departure. Also, black was a favorite color with Lucile from early in her career and I speak of that in my book,  Lucile – Her Life by Design.”

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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.

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Embellished at SCAD FASH in Atlanta

Today I have part two of my recent visit to SCAD FASH in Atlanta.  I want to thank Liza for the use of some of her photos.

Embellished is housed in a large room whose walls are covered with glassed-in niches.  All the accessories are behind glass, and as you will see, in a relatively dark space with lights focused on each object.  I’m not a big fan of glass nor of recessed spaces, though it did make for a dramatic presentation.  The viewing did, however, suffer.  And photos were next to impossible, so I’m showing only a few of the highlights.

Many of the objects were arranged in little capsule collections, like the one from the 1920s above.  It does give a good overall idea of the types of accessories used in an era.  But it was hard for the beaded purse and the shoes to compete with that super metal headdress.

As in the case of Threads of History, many of the objects displayed in Embellished came from the collection of Italian collector Raffaello Piraino.  The two hats above are of Italian origin, and both were just lovely.  I thought the embroidery on the pinkish cloche was interesting.  Though 1920s women thought of themselves as being thoroughly modern, motifs of women in old fashioned clothing were very popular.  Here in the States these types of embroideries are quite common, though I’ve never before seen one on a hat.

 

The museum dated the pair of sandals on the left as 1939.  I could definitely see the influence of Salvatore Ferragamo’s 1938 rainbow cork platform creation, but the label in these shoes was “Bruno”.  (I don’t think this was Bruno Magli, even though he first went into shoe making in 1936.  He was in business with his brothers, and from the beginning the business went by Magli.)  It does show how even eighty years ago, and even in wartime, fashion designers tended to copy one another.

As Europe edged toward war in the late 1930s, things like leather went into use by the various militaries, and shoe designers had to be open to new materials, like the snakeskin in the pair of platform sandals on the right.

This pretty straw hat was dated circa 1890s.  It is trimmed with silk fruits and leaves.  The silk ribbons look pristine, and I’m guessing they are replacements.  The part of me that loves construction and the inner workings of fashion wanted to see the interior of the hat.

There were some accessories in the timeline exhibition, and they were well-chosen.  This handbag was paired with a 1950s Lanvin-Castillo coat.  There were no notes on this piece, but it looked like beading on velvet tapestry.

And finally here are the intrepid hunters of fashion knowledge.  That’s me on the left, and the always stylish Liza on the right.

Embellished closes on January 29, 2017, so hurry in to SCAD FASH to see this delightful grouping of accessories.

 

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Threads of History at SCAD FASH in Atlanta

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Last week I traveled to Atlanta to see the latest exhibitions at SCAD FASH.  There were two – Embellished: Adornment through the Ages, and Threads of History: Two Hundred Years of Fashion.  Embellished was all about accessories, while Threads was a timeline, starting with clothing from the late eighteenth century.  I was very happy that SCAD FASH was mounting these two exhibitions on historical dress, as their previous shows have featured primarily modern clothes.

The great majority of the clothes on view are from the collection of Italian collector Raffaello Piraino, which means that most of the clothing is European in origin.  I’ll have more to say about that later on.

The earliest works were men’s and women’s clothes from the 1770s.  The man’s coat is called a habit à la française, and the woman’s dress is a robe à la française.  I am going to be completely honest and say this is not my area of expertise, but I absolutely love the richly embroidered men’s coats and vests of the eighteenth century.  It makes me wonder why men today settle for the blandness of their modern attire.

I saw this exhibition with my friend Liza, who is much more knowledgeable about pre-twentieth century fashion than I am.  But we both thought that the woman’s dress looked a bit odd.  The exhibitions notes did not say, but instead of a stomacher to fill in the bodice, they used that rust-colored fabric.  The same color fabric was used for the petticoat, and it led us to think maybe they were reproductions.

Moving into the nineteenth century, we were presented with this lovely cotton muslin dress.  But again, we thought it looked to be mounted in an unusual manner.  From the back it looks like a lovely early Regency dress.

Can anyone help me figure this out?  I’m pretty sure that those triangular pieces would have gone under the breasts.

These two garments seemed like they just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.  Both are early 1800s.

I really do love the fashion of the 1830s.  It’s a period that tends to get overlooked, coming between the Regency and the larger crinolines to come in the 1850s and 60s.  My photo does not do justice to these beauties.

Continuing along through time, we come to the age of the crinoline – the 1850s and 60s.  There were some stunning examples on display, with this dress and interesting jacket being a favorite.

Those sleeves!

One thing that made this exhibition so interesting was the addition of custom made sets for the mid to late nineteenth century clothing.  Designed and made by some of the faculty of SCAD, I thought they added a lot to the atmosphere of the clothing.  This was almost like being in a mid-Victorian parlor.

I’m not sure how this photo turned out to be so light, as the exhibition itself was quite dark, at times, distractingly so.  I know that light must be carefully managed when dealing with old textiles, but parts of the exhibition hall were so dark it was hard to make out the details.  Add to that the lights coming through the floor, and it made viewing hard at times.

As I’ve said in the past, one of the strengths of how SCAD FASH manages exhibitions is the ability to arrange the clothing so that it can be viewed from more than one side.  You could see these mid nineteenth century dresses from almost every angle.

The next set of dresses was placed in a Victorian cabinet of curiosities.  With bustles galore, the setting evoked a steampunky mood of fashion meets science.  I loved it, and suggest you go back to the top and enlarge the photo of this entire vignette.

I will repeat, I am a poor student of the high fashion of the Victorian era.  Still, some of the bustles looked so large!

By the nineteenth century fashion magazines spread the latest throughout the Western world, but I am sure there must have been huge regional differences.  All of these 1870s and 1880s dresses came from Palermo, Italy.  Would a grouping from Cincinnati look much different?

The next grouping featured dresses from the 1880s and 1890s.  You can see the famous “leg ‘o mutton” sleeve on the circa 1895 dress on the right.  So handy for dating, that sleeve!

One of my favorite looks was the poorly photographed example that is seated.  It was described as a tea dress, and it has a lot of the hallmarks of the Liberty of London historical dress crowd.  And what would a showing of Victorian dress be without a paisley shawl?

The blue and white dress in the center back was a puzzler to me.  From the exhibition brochure, “Sunday dress with a silk skirt, Prussian blue velvet bodice and a lace appliqued collar, 1880.”  The skirt seems to be an odd shape for 1880.

This dress was dated 1885.  You can still see the bustle, which is beautifully cut and pleated.  And the lace was marvelous.

This dress was stunning in person. made of silk with hand embroidered bodice.  The exhibition notes date it as 1915, but I’m thinking it is a bit earlier, maybe 1908 or so.  Opinions?

In the foreground is one of two House of Worth dresses in the exhibition.  Early twentieth century, with all the bells and whistles one would expect to see in a Belle Époque masterpiece.  This dress is part of the SCAD FASH permanent collection.  The white dress is from about the same time.

A stunning early twentieth century trio, starting with an evening wrap made from silver metallic tulle, embroidered and appliqued with satin.   The middle is a Fortuny Delphos dress in the richest blue imaginable (drat that lighting!).  It is in the SCAD collection.

I loved this late nineteen-teens black lace, beaded dress, especially because of the beaded girdle.

What a marvelous use of color!

There was a line of pretty 1920s frocks, but I found this one to be the most interesting with the matching shawl.

The 1930s were well represented as well, with sleek bias cut gowns.  My favorite, though, was this rayon dress with the Letty Lynton inspired sleeves.  In the background you can get a peek at a late 1940s suit, posed on a staircase, surrounded by her luggage.

And finally, another favorite was this incredible 1950s coat from Lanvin-Castillo.  The color, the buttons, the sleeves!

Threads of History will be on display until March 19, 2017.  Thanks to Liza for letting me use some of her photos.  Next up, some accessories from Embellished.

 

 

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The Atlanta History Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Uniformity at the Museum at FIT

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York, the purpose of which was to play guide to my friend Jill and a pair of twenty-four year olds who wanted to experience the big city. As such, fashion things were not number one on our list, but Jill and I managed to fit in two exhibitions.  First up is Uniformity, the latest at the Museum at FIT.

Uniforms are not fashion (though they can be fashionable) but they do influence fashion and designers.  The museum chose to show this influence though four categories of uniforms: sports, school, work, and the military.  Above, the curator, Emma McClendon, set the stage by giving us an example from each category, with an extra military uniform thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps that is because there are so many military influences in fashion that the category deserved extra representation.

Here we have on the left, a US colonel’s dress blue uniform from the 1950s.  It does not take a lot of imagination to see how designer Mainbocher took the men’s original to develop the US Navy WAVE uniform of WWII, center.  It does take a bit more of an imaginative stretch to see how Coco Chanel was inspired by blue military uniforms, but there it is in the brass buttons and navy wool of her suit from around 1960, right.

And that is how great designers work.  A garment is not so much copied as it is re-interpreted.

On the right you see the famous “Ike Jacket”, named for General Eisenhower, who favored the style.  During the war, and even afterward, the style became a favorite of both men and women as returning GIs found the jacket to be functional for civilian wear ( My father-in-law’s well-worn Ike jacket still hangs in the coat closet of his home.)  Designers like Claire McCardell adapted the look, as in her shorts ensemble shown above.  Note the bit of red plaid halter top, with was definitely not a part of the uniform.

On the left is a 1998 jacket and skirt from Comme des Garcons designer, Rei Kawakubo.  It is a pretty faithful copy of an olive drab men’s army jacket, but the sleeves have been ripped away.  Literally. You can’t really tell from the photo but the armholes are rough and a bit frayed.  On the right is Marc Jacob’s 2010 “army” jacket, which he paired with a long, romantic skirt.

Probably my favorite grouping of the exhibition was this one featuring the influence of the sailor’s uniform.  In the middle you see the typical summer and winter uniforms of a midshipman.  Though they seem timeless, the white suit is from 1912 and the navy is from 1915.

With their middy collars, the midshipman influence in these two very different dresses is unmistakable.  On the left is an 1890s dress made of red and white cotton, and intended for casual summer day wear.  One might even attempt a round of tennis in such a dress.  In an interpretation from the late 1950s, designer Norman Norell turned the dress into a luxury look, using silk instead of the expected cotton.  This dress was definitely not for playing tennis.

You might have mistakenly thought that the center look is a typical French sailor uniform, but instead, this is one of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s many adaptations of the mariniere, or Breton shirt.  In 1984 Oscar de la Renta did a sequined version for evening.  The lace and striped look on the right is from designer Chitose Abe for her label, Sacai, 2015.

Work uniforms also influence fashion.  The flight suit of aviators has been adapted into fashionable looks many times.  The suit on the right could be a uniform if not for the bright pink color.  Made in 1976 by Elio Fiorucci, this jumpsuit came to the museum from Lauren Bacall.

Another work uniform that has been much adapted is the typical French waiter’s costume.  This ensemble is from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in 2015, so you may remember the Chanel show that was staged like a Parisian Brasserie.  All I can see that that perfect cardigan.

Though designed for children and very young adults, the school uniform also has been an influence on fashion.  The blazer dates to 1825 when members of a rowing team at Cambridge University wore “blazing red” jackets.  The garment became associated with college men’s uniforms.  On the left is what is thought to be a Princeton blazer from the 1920s.  The one on the right is a 1944 Princeton blazer.  Today the blazer is more associated with office attire, but it still has preppy connotations.

Here we see an influence of an influence.  The 1927 girl’s school uniform of the left clearly mimics the sailor’s uniform with the navy color and tied collar.  Unfortunately, you can’t tell that the uniform also reflects fashion in the dropped waist and pleated skirt.  On the right is designer Rudi Gernreich’s 1967 version of the schoolgirl’s uniform.  The sailor influences are still present.

Also go back to the very first photo.  What looks to be an additional school uniform is one, though it is from Japan and dates from a much more recent era.

And finally, you can see the influence that sports uniforms have on fashion.  In 1967 designer Geoffrey Beene made fashion news with his sequined football jersey dress.  It was featured in all the best fashion magazines.  In the middle is the real thing, a 1920s football uniform.  The craziness on the right is from Stella Jean.

The outfit on the right is very interesting.  It really could be mistaken for a uniform for an active sport, but it is actually from French designer, Ungaro, 1969.  It’s like he was inviting the wearer to join  Team Ungaro.  The set on the left is a cycling ensemble fro the 1980s, and the Swiss jersey on the wall is from 1972.

It’s interesting how sports teams have capitalized on their uniforms by marketing hats and jerseys to the general public.  Is that fashion?

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and well-presented exhibition.  We went late, an hour or so before the 8 pm closing, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  I really loved having Jill with me, as although she does love pretty clothes, she is a professional educator, not a fashion-obsessed crazy like me.  She was seeing some of these concepts for the first time, and I loved the way the museum made the crossover between uniforms and fashion so clear to her.

Now through September 16, 2016.

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