Tag Archives: museum

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.



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California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way

Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap recently was in Massachusetts where she not only got to see this exhibition, but also agreed to share it with us.  Located at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, it was originally organized by the Los Angeles Museum of Art.  Mod Betty also saw that one, and reported back that while there was some overlap, there was enough new material to make a second visit worthwhile.

The photo above is a spectacular early 1950s bathing suit from Cole of California.  Designed by Margit Fellegi, it was probably a tie-in with an Esther Williams film, Million Dollar Mermaid.

This suit is one of Cole of California’s best known bathing suits.  Designed by Margit Fellegi in 1942, it was designed to conserve fabric and rubber elastic for the war effort.  They called it the “Swoon Suit” and it guess it did make a few fellows feel weak in the knees.

These pieces were designed by Irene Saltern who is best known for her work at Tabak of California.   These coordinates date from 1960 and are so typical of what she did best – making cheerful, wearable clothes for a casual lifestyle.

Here is another set from Margit Fellegi for Cole of California.  These separates were from her Female Animal collection of 1954.

This Pucci-inspired print is on a Rose Marie Reid swimsuit from 1963.

This American flag themed suit dates from 1961 and is from Mary Ann DeWeese.  I thought this one was pretty interesting, as clothing that mimicked the flag was not always considered patriotic as it is today.  According to the Flag Code, it is not legal to use the flag as “wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”, and I can remember how rock stars were criticized in the 60s for wearing flag-like clothing.

This is actually a bathing suit with a matching skirt.  It is from 1952 and was designed by Mary Ann DeWeese.  Aren’t those cutout flowers special?

Here’s one for the guys, though I can’t see many men today who would wear this.  These matching swim trunks and shirt or jacket were called cabana sets.

In the foreground is a mid 1940s play set from designer Pat Premo.  The fabric is of note, as it was from renowned textile designer Wesley Simpson.

In the background are the pants of the 20th century – Levi’s jeans.

Levi Strauss also made clothing with a Western twist for women.  This set dates from the mid 1950s.

No exhibition of California clothing would be complete without a bit of Gilbert Adrian.  This is a typical Adrian suit, with the precise piecing and use of stripes to produce a pattern.

This Adrian dress is a bit later, and is from his Atomic 50s collection of 1950.

Rudi Gernreich took wool knit and made surprisingly modern-looking bathing suits.  This one is from 1958.

The exhibition is not just clothing.  Furniture, decorative objects and other items featuring 20th century design are highlighted.

I want to thank Mod Betty (that’s her with her mom who accompanied her to the museum) for the great photos and for the item notes.

All photos copyright Beth Lennon.



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Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s at MOCA

As I said in my review of Front Row: Chinese American Designers , the Museum of Chinese in America was one of the highlights of my recent trip to New York.  Two fashion exhibitions plus an excellent permanent exhibition made for a great morning being immersed in a multi-faceted learning experience.

Even though the museum’s focus is the Chinese  in America, Shanghai Glamour was all about the emergence of the modern woman in Shanghai, China.   After the end of the Opium War in 1842, the British victors were able to dictate the creation of “trade cities” in China.  These cities were made to tolerate a Western presence and were to allow trade with them.  Shanghai was one of the trade cities.  By the 20th century there were large British, American and French populations in the city.  It was an increasingly cosmopolitan place.

The exhibition shows how the women of Shanghai created their own distinctive style of dress, which was based on Chinese traditional dress but incorporated elements of the West.  The look was feminine, but modern.

In my top photo, on the right is a ensemble worn by a Shanghai courtesan in the 1910s.  The pants were cropped to expose a bit of leg, and the geometric pattern was a “foreign” element.  By that, I mean it was not traditionally Chinese.  Also the use of buttons on the jacket was a Western element.  That high collar was called a sycee collar.

The green dress is a 1920s dancing dress.  You can see the influence of 1920s Western dress, but the fitted bodice and high collar are uniquely Chinese.

These two dresses are both qipao, which some would call cheongsam.  The qipao came into being in Shanghai in the 1920s, and by the 1930s it was floor length and well established among the modern women of the city.  The qipao on the right is trimmed with metal-thread embroidery that used traditional Chinese motifs such as the dragon.  The dress on the left is made from a semi-sheer fabric, and would have been worn with a slip beneath.

The blouse and skirt on the right is typical of that of a Shanghai student of the early 1920s.  Picture this on a young woman with bobbed hair.

The qipao in the center of the photo dates from the 1930s, and shows a departure from the traditional cut of the sleeves in that the sleeves are set-in instead of being cut in one piece with the bodice.

The qipao on the left is from the early 1940s and is made from an embroidered silk.

The garment on the right is a 1920s  vest worn over a blouse.  Look carefully to see the art nouveau design of the textile.

The light colored qipao is made from devore velvet on a georgette foundation.

The purple qipao was the latest style in 1932.   What made it so fashionable was the decorative trim that was applied to all the borders.

In the 1940s the qipao returned to calf-length and the sleeves were generally longer.  The embroidery trim on the black qipao uses traditional symbols of prosperity and longevity.

The shoes worn by the Shanghai modern woman were the fashionable shoes of the West.  Foot binding was on its way out, having been outlawed in 1902.  These shoes are not Chinese, but are from the collection at FIT.  Photographs and drawings of the period show the women of Shanghai wearing similar styles.

The Chinese title of this magazine was Xinzhuang tekan, or New Dress Special Issue and it is dated June 1926.  In it are both qipao and styles that are more Westernized.  There does not seem to be any relation with the American or the French Vogue magazines.

The exhibition has more dresses, accessories and items in print, and gives a clear picture of how this modern woman emerged.

Shanghai Glamour is on display until November 3, 2013.  It really is a rare chance to see modern Chinese garments of this era in the US, as the majority of them are from the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, China.

I’m sorry about the photo quality, but the room was dark in order to help protect the textiles.  Click to enlarge for a better view.


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The Fashion History Museum

I’m happy to announce that the world now has a new museum devoted entirely to fashion, the Fashion History Museum.  Located in Galt, Ontario, Canada, it is the work of fashion historian Jonathan Walford and his partner Kenn Norman.  Jonathan is the curator of the collection, and Kenn is the museum director.  The Fashion History Museum was actually incorporated in 2004, but they have now opened in a permanent location in  Southworks, a restored historic industrial complex of 19th century limestone factory buildings.

You probably know Jonathan through his books, but he also has experience in the museum world, as he was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum.  I’ve “known” him since the early days of eBay, where vintage sellers and buyers found a place to chat.  And I’ve always been in awe of his knowledge – and his vast collection.  Now it will be on view for all to appreciate.

There are plans to have rotating exhibitions throughout the three galleries that make up the museum.  Now, in gallery one is Paisley and Plaid – A Recurring Fashion.   It features clothing  ranging from 1810 through the 1990s that are printed, embroidered or woven with paisley and tartans.  Gallery two hosts Collecting Fashion for the Future: Acquisitions from the New Millenium.  Here are garments from designers such as  Jason Wu, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Tam.  The third gallery is devoted to accessories.  Currently showing is It’s in the Bag, an anthology of purse styles and materials.

Enjoy these highlight from the current exhibitions, and if you are in or near southern Ontario, you must put the Fashion History Museum on your list of things to see.

In the top photo: Four early dresses from gallery one Paisley and Plaid featuring (right to left) an English paisley print wool dress, c. 1848, American cotton print flounced dress, c. 1854, American blue and brown tartan silk dress, c. 1864, and an American printed wool and purple velvet dress, c. 1886

Printed wool dress by Oleg Cassini, c. 1954, and cotton tartan dress with corset hook closure by Clair McCardell, c. late 1940s – early 1950s

Right to left: View of red and black printed paisley design wool dress by Oleg Cassini, c. 1954, paisley printed silk two piece dress with culotte skirt by Norman Norell 1960, blue and red printed cotton dress and matching kerchief by Lulu, Montreal, c. 1968, and embroidered and mirror applique printed cotton caftan made in India for export, c. 1968

View of gallery two from Fashion for the Future, an exhibition of garments acquired by the museum to represent fashion since 2000. Dresses shown (left to right) include Andrew Matejny, Marchesa, Jessica Biffi, Liefsdottir, and Love-J, as well as selection of shoes by Jean Paul Gaultier, Donna Karan, Naughty Monkey, and others, under the watchful eye of vintage and antique dress forms

Another view of Fashion for the Future including dresses by (left to right)  Desigual, Steven Sprouse for Target, Roots, Takashi, and Vivienne Tam, and fascinator hats by Jacques Vert and David Dunkley

One view of Purse Anthology room featuring different styles of purses (reticules, backpacks, handbags, pocketbools) made from different materials (sea turtle, lucite, felt, etc.) by different designers (Gucci, Lucille de Paris, Willi Smith:Williwear)

To see more photos, and to read about how the museum came together, visit Jonathan’s blog.  The Fashion History Museum also has a website.

All photos and photo captions are courtesy of and copyright of the Fashion History Museum.



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Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent:

Yesterday I went to Charlotte for a new vintage market (more about that later) and took the opportunity to see the latest fashion exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art. The Mint is one of my favorite museums.  They started collecting fashion the early 1970s, and today the collection numbers over 10,o0o objects.  I love that they have three galleries devoted to fashion and so you can visit anytime to see part of the collection.

The latest exhibition is devoted to three French masters – Dior, Balmain and Saint Laurent, with all the garments coming from the Mint’s permanent collection. It highlights the strengths of each with examples from not only the founders of each house, but also their successors.

This dress was designed by Christian Dior, labeled circa 1948.  It is actually a blouse and skirt, and is simply stunning.  I loved the glint of gold embroidered over the lace.

When Christian Dior died in 1958, a young Yves Saint Laurent was given the job of designer at Dior.   He was replaced by Marc Bohan in 1960, who designed this early 1960s suit.

Bohan was the designer of this plaid coat in the late 1960s.

The dress on the left is by Bohan for Dior, circa 1969.  The suit on the right is by Bohan’s successor, Gianfranco Ferre.

On the left is a cocktail dress by Bohan for Dior.  In the background is an evening ensemble by John Galliano for Dior.  Galliano was made the designer at Dior in 1997, and was fired in disgrace in 2011.  I was glad to see this example by Galliano.  There are many examples of designers who have exhibited despicable behavior (Chanel, anyone) but the importance of some, like Galliano, cannot be ignored.

Pierre Balmain opened his house in 1945.  His clothing often had a sculptural quality.  The suit above is from the mid 1950s.

When I came to this dress, I’ll admit, my first thought was a bit of a whine, “But I can’t see the bodice!”  But then, it morphed into, “Why the heck did they cover the bodice?”  That thought was even louder at the next dress:

I’m not a curator, and I have no museum or exhibition training, but I do know what I want to see in an exhibition.  Here we have two Balmain dresses, neither of which shows the bodice.   It’s like seeing only the bottom half of a painting!

Then it began to dawn on me that some of the garments in the exhibition were over accessorized.  These are the two biggest examples, but many of the garments were overshadowed by the styling.  I’m a person who actually likes seeing appropriate accessories with garments.  It adds to one’s understanding of how a garment was actually worn.  But when you can’t see the dress for the accouterments, then it’s time to follow the advice of Coco Chanel and remove the last accessory you put on.

So sorry about the fuzzy photo, but I just loved this great mid 1960s suit by Balmain.  Again, I have to say I found the strong accessories to be a bit distracting.

On the other hand, visitors are treated to what is often a hidden delight of couture – the interior of a garment.  In this case, we get a glimpse of the lining and trim of a coat by Oscar de la Renta, who designed couture for the House of Balmain from 1993 to 2002.

This stunning coat was designed by Christophe Decarnin, the designer at Balmain from 2002 to 2011.  Because of all the fur pieces used throughout the exhibition, I really could not tell if the fur around the neck is a part of the coat, or just an accessory.  It does seem to match the cuffs.

And finally, we get to Yves Saint Laurent.  Saint Laurent opened in 1962.  The jacket and skirt above are a great example of the beautiful ethnic-inspired clothing he designed throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Saint Laurent retired in 2002 and his couture atelier was closed.   His ready-to-wear line,  Rive Gauche, continued to be produced under the direction of Tom Ford, who designed the suits on the left and in the center.  The suit on the left (ignore distracting scarf)  is an homage to Saint Laurent’s Safari suits of the late 1960s.  The suit on the right was designed by Stefano Pilati, designer from 2004 through 2012.  Thankfully, there were no examples from the rebranded Saint Laurent Paris designer, Hedi Slimane.

I like that most of the garments are placed so that you can see them from both front and back.  I also love that you can get up-close to examine the details.  If you are ever in Charlotte, NC, the Mint is well worth the $10 admission price, especially while their excellent Fashionable Silhouettes in on view.



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National Museum of American History – America on the Move

It wasn’t all about fashion last week in Washington.  I managed to work in a travel exhibition as well.  America on the Move is a survey of Americans going places.  It is part of the ongoing remodeling of the museum, and is a walk through various scenes that show how travel has changed over the years.  To give you an idea of the size of the museum, included is an exhibit with an actual Southern Railway locomotive.

Above is a 1903 Winston, which was the first car to cross the United States.  Driven by Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker, they drove from California to New York, picking up Bud the bulldog in Idaho.  In many places there were no roads at all, and they had to have equipment to remove them from gullies and such.  The trip was completed in 63 days.

In this scene, a girl is standing on the porch of a tourist cabin, part of Ring’s Rest, a small motor court in Maryland.  Built in 1930, the court remained open until the 1960s.  The Ringe family, which owned the motor court donated the building and Cabins sign along with many photographs that document the business.

Look how tiny!  I’ve been in a few of these older cabins where there is room for only a bed, a small table and a chair or two.

Ring’s Rest, 1940s

The trailer is a 1934 Trav-L-Coach which was owned by the Eben Cate family of New Hampshire.  The scene is of their camping spot at Decatur Motor Camp in York, Maine.  While Father Cate sits, sleeping beneath his paper, Mother and Daughter are conducting business as usual in the trailer kitchen.

The test notes pointed out that the trailer was already damaged where the cut-away section is.   This little taste of vintage trailers made me more than ever want to visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana.

Station wagons were the mom vans and SUVs of the 1950s.  How would you like to load the back of this 1955 Ford Country Squire with a picnic basket full of great food, a Scotch Kooler, and a red plaid Pendleton blanket?


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The First Ladies at the National Museum of American History

Probably the first fashion exhibition I ever saw was the old First Ladies Hall in the National Museum of American History.   It was 1973, I was eighteen and I’ve been in love with historical fashion ever since.  Several years ago I was pretty dismayed to learn that the old hall was being updated, and that there would no longer be a dress from every First Lady on display.  But considering that some of the dresses had been on view since 1914, I’m sure it was past time for some of them to be taken down for conservation’s sake.

It is part of a general update the entire museum is undergoing.  Built in 1964, the National Museum of American History is part of the Smithsonian.  When I last visited the museum in the mid 1990s, I couldn’t tell that much had changed in the museum from my previous visits, with the exception of a few new artifacts like Archie Bunker’s chair and Mr. Rogers’s sweater.  But now all the exhibits are being revamped to make it more interactive and visitor friendly.  For the most part, it is a huge improvement.

The First Ladies exhibition is now more compact, but it is a huge draw within the museum.  I had to stand in line with lots of schoolgirls who were just as enthralled as I had been on my first visit years ago.  And that’s pretty amazing considering that elsewhere in the Smithsonian, it was evidently Teenagers Runamuck Day.

My photos are quite poor, due to the glass cases and the very dim lighting, but the exhibition itself is quite beautiful, even with the hoards of people and the noise.  It is still worth taking the time to see, though it does not, of course, have anywhere near the impact of all those lovely ladies lined up from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton.

The top photo shows a dress from Mamie Eisenhower.  The dress looks red, but is actually a nice dark pink.  It was made by designer Nettie Rosenstein, and the matching handbag is beaded.

These two dresses belonged to Grace Coolidge, who gave them to her maid, Maggie Rogers.

This gown was worn by Caroline Scott Harrison circa 1890.  It was later altered.

The Chanel-style suit is actually one of Nancy Reagan’s many Adolfos.  The dress behind Mrs. Harrison’s was Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural ball, and was designed by Sally Milgrim.

Both of these dresses were worn by Lou Hoover, who was considered to be a very fashionable woman.  The evening dress is silk with metallic threads interwoven.  Mrs. Hoover was the first First Lady to appear in Vogue.

This gown was Jackie Kennedy’s, of course.  It was designed by Oleg Cassini for a state dinner in 1961.  According to his autobiography, he made this dress with one shoulder as a stepping-stone to making a strapless dress for her.  And that he did very soon.

The dress is the background was not for a midget; this was an unfortunate trick of perspective.  The dress belonged to Julia Dent Grant.

I’m sure you all recognize this dress as the one worn by Michelle Obama for the first inauguration in 2009.  Designed by Jason Wu, I can tell you that even though I’d seen this dress in dozens of photos and in video, its beauty was simply astounding.  Maybe it was because all the news photos were so brightly lit, but I’d never noticed how the dress sparkles, with little bits of gold embroidered throughout.

Note the crowds of viewers.

Dolly Madison was well-represented, as she should be.

This dress, with both a daytime and an even bodice, was worn by Mary Todd Lincoln.  It is thought to have been made by Elizabeth Keckley.

Note Patricia Nixon’s name imprinted inside her Herbert Levine shoes.

This is another dress belonging to Grace Coolidge.

And I do have to show a garment from at least one president, so here are Warren G. Harding’s silk pajamas and his slippers.

I have more photos from the NMAH that I’ll be showing next week.  To see good pictures of the dresses, plus some more, you should visit the museum’s Pinterest page that is devoted to the First Ladies collection.


I meant to talk about the big difference in experience of this museum and that of the DAR.  It is amazing how much a little quiet and solitude can mean when one is trying to absorb information.  After returning home I realized just how little I had retained from the First Ladies exhibit, so I turned to the internet to refresh my memory.  The notes on the museum website are the same as that on the museum text panels, and I was surprised to see just how much I missed in the details of these items.

For anyone planning a trip to Washington, DC, I suggest that you put this very popular exhibit at the top of your schedule.  Be there then the museum opens and go straight to it before the crowd starts to gather.


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