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Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH – Part 2

When I went to Atlanta to see Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH, I made the trip primarily to see the Adrian suits. I did not expect to be so enchanted with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, so I was so happy to see what I’d been missing.

As I pointed out before, don’t expect a history lesson from SCAD FASH. The docents do a good job of showing additional photos and answering questions, but the truth is, you need to do your own research before visiting.  I knew Alaïa as a designer of formfitting dresses and gowns for the rich and famous, but I’d never really thought of him as a tailor. Was I wrong!

I did know of Alaïa as a collector, having had the experience of bidding against him at auction. I didn’t know it at the time, but in an auction of clothing and textiles held just before his death in 2017, Alaïa outbid me on several items of sportswear. It was not until the auction company sent out a notice explaining that because Alaïa had died, the items he had bid on were to be for sale to the first claimant. Seems like there were some Claire McCardell items in the list.

He was quite the collector. I read somewhere that the Association Azzedine Alaïa now manages over 20,000 objects that he had collected.

But today I’ll be talking about his work. This dress and jacket are from 2007. I have always been a fan of pleats, and so this one was a favorite. The pleats are not just in the skirt, but also on the back of the jacket.

It’s hard to tell on such a thick, black fabric, but it looks to be that the pleats are one long piece of fabric, pleated and then attached like godets. Amazing construction!

And yes, all these suits are black. I have them looking like charcoal gray, but that’s so you can appreciate the details.

This superb suit is from 2010, but the dates of these suits really are not the point. Alaïa did not conform to a fashion calendar, and he was more interested in his own sense of style than he was of fashion. Sounds just like Adrian.

This was another favorite, and the reality of this suit is much better than my sorry photo of it. Taking his cues from the traditional man’s cut away coat (and how about that velvet collar?), Alaïa mixes it up by combining it with that hyper-feminine lace skirt. This suit was made in 1989. Do you see what I mean by his own vision of style?

I have no idea how the lace was made, but it could not have been easy.

Alaïa, like Adrian, was fond of fringe. This jacket from 1986 is paired with his leggings. I love my American Giant leggings, but I could sure use a pair of these.

There are no boring backs on an Alaïa jacket.

Same collar, same 1986 collection. This also came in a rich dark blue, but it was not on display here.

That motif is embroidered. There in the background are the Adrian suits.

Okay, I’ll admit the jury is still out on this 2007 dress and capelet. I love the skirt so much, and wanted to just remove the capelet to see if the dress met with my satisfaction.  You can see the back of this one in the previous photo.

I’ll finish up the suits with this one from 2012 because it is pretty much perfect.

There was also a stunning selection of Alaïa’s gowns and dresses in the exhibition. As pretty as they are, I just did not find them to be as interesting as the suits. He used a lot of knits, as in both of the dresses above.

Here’s Oscar night along with a refugee from the Grammys. The Grammy worthy leather gown was mind blowing in its construction.

If you have ever sewn leather, you know there are no second chances, that every stitch leaves a hole in the leather. Remarkable!

The long industrial strength zipper circles the body three times. 1981.

Yes, you can get this close, but do not touch.

This gown is actually a beautiful blue that I simply could not capture with my camera. It’s also knit.  Alaïa also was a great admirer and collector of Charles James garments, and the influence of James’s “La Sirène” in this gown is unmistakable.

The exhibition also shows how Alaïa referenced the 1930s. If you didn’t know better, you could mistake this confection for a 1930s gown…

right down to the snap closures. Take a moment to notice how this (and all the others) dress was mounted. A clear plastic form was molded to custom fit each dress.

There were also some celebrity worn dresses. Here one of the docents is showing me photos of Tina Turner wearing her Alaïa performance dresses.

Again, this exhibition is well worth a trip to Atlanta, and to make it even better, there was another smaller show featuring designer Patrick Kelly. And thanks so much to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for sharing the day and her photographs.

 

 

 

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Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH

Having SCAD FASH in Atlanta makes me happy. I mean, really, really, happy. Who wouldn’t be happy standing in front of a line of suits by Gilbert Adrian? And this new exhibition, Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut, gave me a chance to actually wear the jacket from my Adrian suit and to spend time with my friend Liza.

Because I’m such a chronologically minded person, I’ll show off the Adrian garments first.  After years of designing costumes at M-G-M Studios in Hollywood, in 1942 Adrian went into business for himself, making the types of clothes he had been designing for the stars – glamorous gowns and structured suits. Because of poor health, Adrian was in business for only ten years.

And while fashion changed dramatically after 1947, Adrian pretty much kept making the clothes he knew made women look beautiful, softening the strong shoulder of the 1940s only slightly. Because of this, unless a garment was pictured in period advertising or magazine copy, Adrian’s clothes can be difficult to date.  The exhibition side-stepped this problem by dating all the Adrian garments 1942 – 1952.

All the clothes in this exhibition come from Association Azzedine Alaïa, the organization that holds Alaïa’s archive.  Not only does the archive have many of Alaïa’s garments, but also thousands of items that Alaïa collected, including vintage clothing. The Association holds more than three hundred Adrian garments that had been collected by Alaïa.

An interesting side note to the story comes from California Couture, by Maureen Reilly. In writing about Adrian for her book, Reilly interviewed former high school teacher Joe Simms. In his teaching job in Philadelphia in the 1970s, Simms used the example of Adrian (and his unwillingness to conform to the New Look) to illustrate to the kids how fashion was always a subject of debate. The class took the topic a step further, and soon the school had a collection of donated Adrian garments, sketches, and fabrics. When Simms retired he had to find homes for the garments, and they ended up in various museums. In 1988 Simms was approached by Alaïa who purchased most of the Simms collection. I can’t help but wonder how many of the suits on display at SCAD FASH were once studied by Simm’s students.

The Adrian suits illustrated perfectly the title of the exhibition, as Adrian was truly a master of cut and tailoring.

These two jackets show one of the techniques for which Adrian was known – the making and shaping of jackets though piecework.

One indication of the era of manufacture was that Adrian had to stick to the wartime L-85 regulations. This includes that there could be no patch pockets, no sleeve cuffs, and the jackets could not be longer than 25″ long. I’ve read that during the war years Adrian used a lot of tie closures because metal findings were scarce.

Another collection has this same suit, but I can’t recall where. I do, however, remember the suit. Who could forget it?

Adrian also made coats, though they are not as common as his suits. At first glance this coat looks new, but the worn condition of the velvet collar shows it was well-loved by a former owner.

Adrian did make some concessions to fashion, as can be seen in the slightly softer shoulders and longer skirt length of this postwar jacket.

I had never realized that Adrian was such a user of buttons until seeing all these examples together. These are little money bags. Was he influenced by Schiaparelli’s use of whimsical buttons?

This suit is a good example of a postwar design. Both the jacket and skirt are longer, and the drape on the shoulder extends into a flowing scarf on the back. There are metal buttons and a patch pocket.

And speaking of buttons, these are little mice!

I found the suit on the right to be interesting because my friends at Style and Salvage have a coat with a red slash across the top of the bodice in the manner of the white slash on this jacket. Could they be from the same collection?

I can imagine that working in the tailoring department of Adrian was a bit like working jigsaw puzzles all day long.

Notice how the diagonal slash on the sleeve is repeated on the body of the coat. You see this repetition a lot in Adrian’s designs.

Adrian also liked self fringe, and he was fond of textiles from designer Pola Stout.  There was no indication this is a Stout fabric, but my guess is that it is.

You may have noticed the lack of bright colors. Even on his evening gowns, Adrian preferred to use muted colors.

Even when the buttons were plain plastic, Adrian made them important to the design.

I actually found this jacket  in a 1950 The Californian magazine. The curve of the collar is repeated on the pocket, the sleeve trim, and the bottom of the jacket.

As sort of an afterthought, three Adrian gowns were also on display in the gift shop.

I especially liked the print example, as it shows the other side of Adrian. He was known for designing his own fabrics, though I don’t think this is one of them. He went in for big, graphic motifs.

It was a real treat seeing so much of Adrian’s work together, and especially in conjunction with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, which I’ll show and talk about in my next post. As always, I have a few other words to say about the exhibition.

First, most of the Azzedine Alaïa pieces were positioned so that one could get a look at the back of each garment, but the Adrian pieces were lined up in a row against the wall. There was no way to see the backs of the suits. Mirrors would have been nice, but even better, the garments could be pulled away from the wall so visitors could walk behind them. The SCAD FASH exhibition area had plenty of room to do this, so it’s puzzling why they chose to limit the view of the backs of the suits.

Second, (and I know that I am bringing my own agenda into play here) I would have liked more historic context. SCAD FASH is a design museum, not a fashion history one, but there was little information about Adrian available except through the student docents and the website. In order to know about the clothes on display, you must use the provided tablets or the website on your cell phone. And the docents are there to show more  and to engage in conversation about the exhibition.

I have found the student docents always to be charming, enthusiastic, and engaged, and this visit was no exception.

This exhibition in on view through September 13, 2020, and I highly recommend it. Just do a little homework first, as they are not going to spoon feed the biography of Adrian nor that of Azzedine Alaïa. But you will get an excellent look at how the designs of Adrian influenced those of Alaïa. It’s a lesson you do not want to miss.

Next post: Azzedine Alaïa.

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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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