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Cinematic Couture, Part III

I bet you could have guessed that this set of costumes is from Downton Abbey.  Though spread over several years, the three dresses in front represent the Crowley sisters, Edith, Sybil, and Mary.  Edith’s dress is from the fifth season, and so is from the mid 1920s. If you can remember, Edith was the “plain” sister. In the middle is a Sybil dress, circa 1912, as is Mary’s red dress on the right.

In the background are Earl and Countess Grantham, the girls’ long-suffering parents.

From the back we can see there is more to Edith than meets the eye.

One thing I love about SCADFASH is that the place fosters conversation between visitors and docents. There was a pair of young women who were touring the exhibition at the same time a us, and it surprised me that neither of them had seen Downton Abbey.

If ever a movie in recent memory was known for the hats, it was Titanic. Because of the lighting I was not able to be a really good shot of all of them. And I really could not get one that shows just how massive some of these were.  I wonder if women during this period had neck problems from trying to balance those things on their heads?

When looking at costumes, I find that I get more from seeing the ones from the movies and programs I have actually seen. Take this one, for example, and imagine Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen in Out of Africa, as she prepares to make the mistake of a lifetime by marrying the wrong man.

This costume was worn by Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. 1920s fashions are really tough on even the slimmest body, but Kidman actually looked pretty great in this dress and coat.  I’m not sure why this is not so successful on the mannequin because it really is a nice coat and a great dress,

It does look better from this angle. You can at least see the pretty work on the dress.

It has a light blue lining with a cut-work  cotton dress. The brown embroidery on the cut-work really does enhance the brown of the coat.

Cosprop is owned by John Bright, who is also a collector of historical dress. Much of his collection can be seen on his website, The John Bright Collection.

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Cinematic Couture at SCADFASH, Part II

Let’s start Part II with this great costume from Elizabeth. This silk velvet gown was worn by Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth in this 1996 film.  The designer was Alexandra Byrne, who co-incidentally designed the costumes for the currently showing Mary Queen of Scots. It would be interesting to compare the costumes for Mary and Elizabeth in both films.

I loved the way this one was mounted with the mannequin’s arms spread wide to show some very spiffy sleeves.

In 1989 designer James Acheson won the Oscar for best costume design for Dangerous Liaisons.  This exhibition had three dresses from the film, which was set in eighteenth century France. These costumes show just how much work goes into a costume drama of this magnitude. The dresses we saw were worn by two of the more minor characters (and older women to boot) but the detail and design might make one think these dresses were the true stars of the show.

The back view shows the fashionable sack back.

This dress was worn by actress Mildred Natwick as Madame de Rosemonde. It was her last film role. She was eighty-three years old at the time!

This costume was also worn by Mildred Natwick. What a way to end a long and varied career!

And finally, this gown worn by Swoozie Swartz, who at forty-five was a youngster compared to Natwick. Still, it’s great seeing “older” women dressed fashionably, and not in dark colors as is so often the case.

These four costumes are from The Duchess, which starred Keira Knightley, and which won a best costume design Oscar for designer Michael O’Connor.  I need to say at this point that there were, in fact many men’s costumes on display as well, but a simple suit with knee pants tends to be over-shadowed by a lavish silk gown.

Both of the gowns is this set were worn by Knightley.  I have been reading a lot about eighteenth century fashion lately, but I have so much to learn. Still, costumes from this period always seem to be oddly over-ornamented.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wildly off base.

That is a hair style I’ll never understand. I do try, however not to make judgments about the clothing, hair, and make-up of people in the past.

Since costumes have to be practical, they often don’t have historically correct closures. It’s not very often that one sees a zipper in a pre-1930s costume these days, but eighteenth century bodices seem to present access problems. This dress was closed using hook and eyes.  And the stomachers seen above in the Dangerous Liaisons costumes above were sewn (rather than pinned) shut. Was the actress literally sewn into her robe?

The three costumes above were worn by Jenna Coleman in the BBC television series, Victoria. This program is about the young Victoria, and so begins in 1837 as she ascended to the throne.  Here is my favorite of the entire exhibition, a nautical-inspired riding habit. You can’t tell from my photo, but the red band on her cap is lace. Very queenly.

The other costumes from Victoria were not as successful. I thought this dress, used in a ballroom scene in the program, was too shiny. Okay, it looked cheap.

And I hate this photo because it does not convey just how interesting the robe is, and not in a good way. The exhibition guide tells me that the fabric was specially digitally printed, I’m assuming to replicate the original, but it just looks like someone’s old drapes, especially with the gold fringe. I’ve looked at stills from the show, and on film it looks much better, which is what matters.

The crowns were not part of the loan from Cosprop, so SCAD student Tina Gancev designed and 3-D printed the one in the exhibition. They are amazing.

I’ll finish up next time with costumes from the twentieth century.

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Cinematic Couture at SCADFASH, Atlanta

I had the great fun of driving to Atlanta to spend the afternoon with friend Liza at the latest exhibition at SCADFASH, Cinematic Couture. As the name tells us, this was a show of film costumes. SCADFASH does not have a huge permanent collection from which to mount lavish exhibitions, so they rely on shows that travel. This one is from Cosprop, a UK based costume house.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the exhibitions at Biltmore Estate I written about have also used Cosprop.  If you are a fan of British costume dramas, you have seen Cosprop’s work. They have provided costumes for everything from Downton Abbey to the 1996 version of Pride and Prejudice.

I was a bit concerned that this exhibition would be a repeat of costumes we had already seen, and there was indeed a bit of overlap. However, it was the experience of seeing the same garments at two different venues that ended up being one of the biggest revelations of this visit.

There’s so much that I love about SCADFASH exhibitions, so I’ll start there. The big first thing is the ability to get close to the garments. At Biltmore some of the garments are behind glass due to their being displayed in unmonitored locations. The dress, above left, is an embroidered wool dress worn by Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, a film about how Jane Austen became the writer we know, and most of us love. We didn’t give it much of a second look when we saw it at Biltmore.

But here we can see the same dress as presented at SCADFASH. The mounting was so much better, but it was being able to actually see and appreciate the details that made the difference. The dress at Biltmore was in a hotel public space, and the windows caused so much glare that the dress sort of disappeared into the glass cage.

I’m always amazed at all the work that goes into just one costume. This dress was hand embroidered, though some of the others had smaller areas of machine embroidery.

Well, I’m sorry that the back view is poor, but the point is that you can see the back.  Most of the costumes are displayed on circular platforms that are pulled away from the wall enough so that visitors can go behind most of the garments. The docent who was assisting us said that was a deliberate choice because so many visitors were trying to squeeze behind the exhibits to see the backs. So thanks SCAD for making it easy for us.

Just so you’ll not think I’m picking on Biltmore, here’s another comparison shot. This dress was worn by Emma Thompson is Sense and Sensibility. On the left is the dress at SCADFASH, and on the right you see it at Biltmore. While the glare on glass is still distracting, I like the mount better, especially the way the shawl is draped.  And the fit just looks better as well.

Again we are treated to the back of this costume, with that lovely little train. You could see the back at Biltmore as well, but it seemed a bit cramped in that glass box.

Here you can see the lovely texture of the dress and of the shawl, but you can also see one big old blaring anachronism: shiny modern synthetic gloves. We had a bit of a discussion with the docent, and then the curator appeared and we had a word or two with him as well. As it turns out, Cosprop sent the gloves used in the films, but in many cases they were too small to fit on the mannequins’ hands. We tried to point out that the exhibits would look better with no gloves at all than with these silly shiny things.

It seems like Jane Austen is always a favorite, and my guess is that costumes were chosen at least in part because they were likely to have been seen by most visitors.  This costume was worn by Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice.

And this was worn by the other Bingley sister, Mrs. Hurst.  I don’t have a photo of the dress representing the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennet, but her dress was quite plain in comparison to the richer city girl Bingleys.

This is a button from Mr. Darcy’s waistcoat. The button is hand embroidered, but the buttonhole looks machine made to me. Still, it shows an amazing concern toward the details.

My last Regency/Austen photo is this crocheted silk pineapple purse. It was carried by Elizabeth Elliot in Persuasion.  It just goes to show how one special little piece can really make one’s costume.

In my next installment we’ll go back in time to the Georgians, and forward to the Victorians.

 

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Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future

Currently showing at SCADFASH in Atlanta is Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future. As the title suggests, this exhibition is an exploration of how in the mid 1960s designer Cardin envisioned clothing of the future. As such, it’s not a true retrospective of Cardin’s work, but rather, an intensive look at what he is most known for, aside from all the hundreds of licencing agreements.

Cardin’s career began after WWII, when he worked first for Paquin and Schiaparelli, and then for Christian Dior. His first collection under his own name was released in 1951. This suit from 1957 shows the short-lived sack-back style, but it also shows Cardin’s love of structure and sharp tailoring.

The great majority of the exhibition was concerned with Cardin’s “space age”, or Mod looks. I really think the main point of this exhibition could be summed up with the photo above. These two dresses, both with a similar aesthetic, are forty-five years apart. The dress on the left was made in 1968, and the one on the right, in 2013.

So I spent time in front of each look, trying to determine if the look was from the Sixties, or if it were a modern re-interpretation of Cardin’s vision from the 1960s. Sometimes I was right, but just as often, I was not.

The dress above is from 1966. No problem believing that, right?

But what about these two? Both are from 2017! I have a lot to say about these dresses, but first let me say that the longer dress was one of my favorites, as well as one of Liza’s, with whom I saw the exhibition. We just adored the 1920s vibe of it.

What I found so interesting was that the fiber content of both as labeled as “synthetic”. That really doesn’t tell us a lot. The more modern dresses were mostly labeled this way (though some were made from wool jersey), but the 1960s ones were made from wool. The value to me of an exhibition of this sort is that I gain some insights on that I thought I already knew. In this case, I was struck at how the highly structured wool fabrics Cardin used created a silhouette so similar to the wool or polyester doubleknit fabrics used by the average home sewer in the 1960s.

This dress is from 1968, and is made of wool. The dress is so structured that I’m guessing it was interfaced and interlined, and then lined in another fabric. In 1968 the girls in my school were wearing similarly stiff and shaped dresses, but made, for the most part by our mothers and grandmothers. It was an easy look to imitate with doubleknit (and often with a bonded interlining) fabric.

Cardin was an early adopter of pantsuits for women. The 1966 one here is quite similar to the suits he designed for the Beatles several years earlier. He also incorporated this usage of zippers into his men’s clothing.

In 1969 women were in a quandary over skirt lengths. The midi and the maxi had been introduced, but many were reluctant to give up the mini. Cardin’s solution of long over short was a common one. The shiny bits are vinyl, and being attached to the wool coat and skirt, it must have driven dry cleaners crazy, as it does museum curators today. Many times the vinyl has not held up. Several years ago I was touring the archives of the North Carolina Museum of History with the textiles curator, who was an acquaintance. The museum had just acquisitioned a Cardin dress from this line. The wool was perfect, but the vinyl was sticky and in really bad condition.

The “Carwash” dress dates to 1969. It was widely copied, but I can remember seeing an original Cardin in a thrift store years ago. That one is high on my list of things I regret not buying.

Along the same lines is this tunic from 1970. Getting dressed in this one had to have been an experience.

Cardin did design for men as well as women, but while the women’s clothes of the 1960s look quite normal to us today, his menswear is anything but normal. The vinyl collar of the jumpsuit was modeled after that of a NASA spacesuit, but I’m pretty sure Neil Armstrong did not have a vinyl brief (codpiece?) over his suit. And note how the placement of the zippers is very similar to that on the woman’s suit seen earlier.

The red and black dress is again, wool and vinyl. I really like this 1968 dress and the way the sleeves are made in one with the yoke, but the presence of the vinyl makes it look a bit uncomfortable.

I hope you can tell this is a jumper over a black bodysuit. This is from 1967, and you can see how Cardin used the diamond-on-a-belt shape on the red dress above. I was happy to spot skirts with a similar motif for sale.

This skirt, and another in orange, is made of vinyl and mohair. Photo courtesy of Style & Salvage.

The three colorful dresses in the middle are all from 2015 and 2016, though Augusta Auctions just sold a 1960s version of the pink skirt with the straps that look like the spokes of a wheel.

Note Cardin’s use of circles as a motif, and go back through the photos above to spot more circles.

Even if the show notes had not pointed out Cardin’s love of the circle, any visitor could not help but notice them.

Click to enlarge

In a large grouping like this one the circles are even more obvious.

In the center of the exhibition there was an interesting display of Cardin’s evening looks that I thought were beautifully displayed, and shown, I’m guessing to get the point across that Cardin could do more looks than the Mod styles with which he is most associated. The lace and silk dress above is from 1977.

This very Halston-esque gown is from 2017. It is a spectacular little frock!

I loved the set of this exhibition. It was straight out of a 1960s space age fashion show with pods and circles galore.

For the first time that I’ve vivited SCADFASH, instead of a paper guide to the garments, I was loaned an ipad that had had the show notes. I loved this. It was easy to navigate, and best of all, it can be accessed through the SCAD website. So even if you can’t get to Atlanta before the show closes on September 30, 2018, you can browse the guide and see all the looks. I recommend it if you are at all interested in learning and seeing more.

 

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Carolina Herrera Exhibition at SCADFASH, Atlanta

I really love that SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) opened a branch museum in Atlanta.  Yesterday was my second visit, and there is so much that I love about SCADFASH and their approach to fashion exhibition.

The latest major show is a Carolina Herrera retrospective, celebrating her thirty-five years as a designer.  The clothes shown range from her first collection in 1981 to gowns from spring 2016, so it is a great look at her whole body of work.  The clothing was not arranged chronologically, though her work from the 1980s was clustered at the beginning of the show.  Otherwise, the clothes were arranged in clusters where one could plainly see some of the themes, colors, and garments that make Carolina Herrera the essence of Refined Irreverence.

The gown on the left in the above photo looks like a pretty dress made from an ordinary pink and white toile fabric.  Look a bit more closely and you’ll see that famous Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe in the circle just above her foot.   That dress is from 2007, and the blue and pink gown on the other end of the sofa is from 2003.

On thing I love about SCADFASH is the use of various means to show more than one side of a garment.  In the 1980s and 1990s part of the exhibition, mirrors were used to see both front and back of each garment.  This is a very effective way to show off the entire garment, but too many mirrors in a gallery can add to visual confusion.  This was the only section where mirrors were employed, all along one long wall, and it worked very well.

The gown above is made of black velvet and a yellow organza side ruffle.

From the fall 1989 collection, this silk jacket has a royal flush in sequins appliqued over the pocket.

Herrera is famous for her interpretation of the white shirt, a garment that she wears a lot of herself.  Along one wall were several versions, all framed like works of art.  I loved this one, as if you start at the top and see only the top half, you think it is just an ordinary white shirt.  But then the eye is drawn to the feathered hem with the little bit of sparkle from the sequins.  Lovely!

This is the detail of another blouse, this one from Resort 2007.  If you ever wonder why high-end ready-to-wear is so expensive, a lot of the cost is in the textiles, and in the work that goes into taking various bits like laces and trims to actually manufacture a textile from the parts.

I really try not to draw undue attention to myself, but this was one case where it was unavoidable.  I wore my only item of Carolina Herrera clothing, a simple cotton top made from the most amazing 1930s inspired swimming woman print.  This print was first used by Herrera in 2005, and you can see it on the mannequin behind me.  My top is from a 2014 reissue of the print.

SCADFASH has a great system where student docents are stationed around the exhibition with ipads that are loaded with photos of the clothes as they were worn on celebrities and shown in fashion magazines.  All these students had to show me a photo of JLo on the cover of Vogue wearing the 2005 dress.  It was really nice of them, and it showed how familiar they were with their content, and how interested they actually were in what they were showing.

Many of the displays were arranged so that the display area extended into the gallery, which is another way to show the garments from more than one angle.  Herrera is so well known for her gowns that its hard to remember that she also does separates.  One of my favorites in the entire show was the pants and top above.

And here it is from the front.  The 1960s inspiration is unmistakable.  It is from 2014.

I wish I had taken a better photo of the dress to the right.  It’s hard to tell, but this is actually a shirtwaist dress with the collar popped up.  Each tier of organza is accented with grosgrain ribbons in coral and black.  I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to the dress until later in the exhibition when there was a video set up showing the clothes in the exhibition as they came down the runway.  This dress moves like a dream.

One of the big issues in clothing display is how to get the museum viewers to see a static object on a mannequin as an object that is meant to move on a human body.  SCADFASH’s use of video and also of the ipad photos, really goes a long way toward solving this problem.

This interesting dress does not show well in my photo, mainly due to the chalky white mannequin.  While the black and colored clothes look great on the mannequins, some of the white and off-white garments seemed to mesh with the mannequins.

But look closely to see that this dress is constructed of cut out pieces stitched to a base of mesh or tulle.  What looks like a collar, pockets, and pleats at first glance, are actually pieces attached to the base.

Here you can see some more historical references.  The 1920s are represented in the beaded dress in the back left, while the dress in the front (which is stunning in person) looks like it is straight from a 1940s film noir.  The red dress with the asymmetrical top is from the fall 2003 Alfred Hitchcock Collection, and I could see one of Hitchcock’s 1950s blondes wearing it.

Here’s a better view of the red dress, and in front, another one of my favorites.  This amazing fabric is silk organza, with sparkly stars arranged in the constellations.  Chanel did a very similar dress in 1937, but hers was star-shaped sequins on tulle.  Herrera’s updated version even includes star and moon appliques.

There was a lot of black and white.

The lacy concoction is from the same collection as the lacy blouse shown earlier.  Note also that it is another version of Herrera’s beloved white shirt.

The dress in the back is from 2005, and could also have been from 1940.  The short dress in front is from 2007, and the description in the notes merely says, “Black and ivory cocktail dress.”

A closer look shows that this great little dress is constructed of strips of ribbon or trim.  I loved it.

A dress does not have to be over-complicated to be special, as in the case of this wonderful frock.  The asymmetrical stitching on the left side helps to form the first of a series of pleats below the pocket.

There was a section of wedding dresses, and of gowns that were used for a wedding, even though that was not the original intent of the designer.  I loved the blush pink dress, which is based on a trench coat.  The white dress on the pedestal looks like lace, but it is actually a lace design printed onto the silk organza.  And the golden sparkly extravaganza at the far right was worn by Jessica Simpson for her 2014 wedding.

There’s a lot of bustle action here, but what interested me was the textile.  This is one piece of dramatic striped fabric.

The last display contained some show-stopping ball gowns.  I just could not relate to this dress.  There was just too much going on!  And in the photo of the celebrity  (sorry, but I forgot who it was) wearing it, she looked extremely uncomfortable, as if she knew the dress was wearing her instead of the other way around.

I guess the lesson is that when using a dramatic print, the rest of the the design needs to be simple.

In all, there were ninety-nine looks in the exhibition, which really told the story of Herrera’s design history and aesthetic.  The clothes were arranged so that the visitor could get close enough to really examine them.  I’m looking forward to seeing what SCADFASH does next!

Through September 25  at SCADFASH in Atlanta.  Curated by Rafael Gomes.

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