Tag Archives: Fashion Exhibits

Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

A recent Thursday found two of my friends and me gazing with stars in our eyes at some of the fashions currently on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Because I sew, I think I look at fashion exhibits differently from those who may not spend so many of their waking hours either thinking about dressmaking or actually engaged in the process.  The opening storyboard immediately spoke to me with these words:

“Feminine fashion is a forum for great creativity and superb craftsmanship.  A single garment can be appreciated as representing the aesthetics of its era, a designer’s vision, a workroom’s skills, or a wearer’s taste.”

I actually believe, at times, all four values can be inherent in one single garment. Actually, as a dressmaker using many vintage patterns, I know this to be true. But I digress!  The fashions on exhibit neatly displayed one or more of these characteristics, even as they were divided into general categories, such as “Shape and Volume,” “Drape” and “Color,” etc.  Included in the Exhibit were the famous designer names one would expect, such as Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Saint Laurent; some of the more recent designers, such as de la Renta, Herrera, and Moschino; and some more obscure designers, such as Emilio Schuberth and Benjamin Green-Field.

As always, it is almost impossible to choose the designs about which to report, when so many deserve mention.  Following is a slightly biased look at some of  the fabulous fashions, in no particular order.

Ball gowns are always crowd pleasers, and this Exhibit had plenty to show.  This gown by Jean Desses from the late ‘50s is typical of his ability to sculpt and drape lace, in this instance, to great effect:

One of Cristobal Balenciaga’s famous silhouettes, from the Spring of 1951, displays his Spanish heritage in its “flamenco dancer’s” interpretation.  This $3,000 (a lot of money for 1951!) “haute couture creation, exquisitely … constructed, was purchased for a special showing at Wanamaker’s department store because it most dramatically illustrates the 1951 fashion trend of extravagant romanticism.’”  (You can read about a very special fashion show I attended at Wanamaker’s in one of my early posts, here.  Wanamaker’s was one of the country’s grand old department stores, and it was my distinct pleasure to shop there “back in the day.”)

I was delighted to see Jacqueline de Ribes included in the Exhibit.  This dress (below) had to be one of the crowd favorites.  From around 1990, the dress is described as “ streamlined, sculptural, timeless, and alluring.”  Her designs are known for their elegant demeanor, described by her as “the art of being astonishing without creating astonishment.”

I was also happy to see Anne Fogarty represented.  This romantic, youthful dress (below) from about 1953, was a gift of the designer to the Museum, where she had worn it to receive an award for her designs.

Having just seen the wonderful exhibit of Norman Norell last Spring at FIT in New York, this “mermaid” dress, circa 1967-70, caught my eye from across the room.  I hope you can see the rhinestones encircling the cuffs of this dress.  It was gorgeous!

And another American designer (from Philadelphia, no less), James Galanos, was represented with this “ready-to-wear” evening gown (below), each bead and sequin of it stitched on by hand.  This is a great example of the relevance of vintage fashion; this dress would look right at home at some swanky party given this holiday season.  Galanos graciously gifted this dress to the Museum in 1957.

Cocktail dresses were well represented, in splendid manner.  This dress by Emilio Schuberth (below), dating to about 1961, was an astounding display of three-dimensional decoration.  The simple silhouette of the dress is the perfect foil for the exquisite beading and fabric flowers.   (Note the hem of the dress, a good example of a “couture” hem which is typically not pressed flat, adding some dimension to the lower edge.)

Who does not love Oscar de la Renta?  And how could you not love this cocktail skirt and halter ensemble, from 1999?  This happens to be a ready-to-wear example which is anything but ordinary.  The skirt “sparkles with beads and sequins but is enlivened by three dimensional embroidered leaves and dangling strings of beads.” The green silk taffeta of the halter pairs perfectly with that luminescent skirt.

Palazzo pajamas, anyone?  Yes, please, if they can be this example designed by Irene Galitzine in 1962.  The boldly patterned silk taffeta of the top and pants of this ensemble is beaded, while the overskirt is not, creating an unusual and effective texture to the entirety.  They were a gift to the Museum from Princess Irene Galitzine, herself.

And here is the dramatic back view of the Galitzine pajamas.

Of course, daywear was also represented.  A classic example of a Chanel suit was this simple and elegant one, designed by Gaston Berthelet for Chanel, Fall/Winter 1972-73.  As the caption said, “ Chanel’s suit became a staple for sophisticated modern women.”  And it is still thus!

A very clever juxtaposition further showed the influence of vintage on current fashion.  This dress, surviving only in a photograph, was the result of fabric panels left over from an art installation by Ellsworth Kelly in 1952:

Here is the modern interpretation of it, in collaboration with Francisco Costa, and produced by Calvin Klein in 2013:

Conspicuously absent from this Exhibit were coats (jackets, yes, but no outerwear.)  As one who adores coats, this was a disappointment, but only a minor detraction.  The closest thing to a coat, believe it or not, was this wedding gown, designed by Philadelphia native Gustave Tassell in 1968.  There are no words to describe the luminosity of the silk/wool moiré in this “coat-dress.”  Along with its feather-trimmed hood, rather than a veil, this dress could have seen a second life as an evening coat after the wedding.  It was a remarkable look.

Adding to the enjoyment of the Exhibit were looping videos in the gallery viewing areas.  In the entrance, the video showed clips from runways, from the 1950s up through the 1990s.  The second video had a small seating area from which to watch it.  On view were ateliers of various designers, from the 1950s up to the current day.  The bustle of activity by the embroiderers and petit mains (dressmakers), as the designers directed affairs, gave a bit of a hint to the complexity and time-consuming process of haute couture.

This has been a whirlwind tour through Fabulous Fashion.  See it if you can.  For another review, go to the posts for October 30 and November 30, 2018 of  The Vintage Traveler.

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Uncategorized

Théâtre de la Mode

 

The third week of our vacation led us to the Columbia River Gorge, about an hour east of Portland, Oregon, but on the Washington state side of the River. When we made our travel plans, the Théâtre de la Mode was the last thing I expected to see. But knowing that this famous exhibit resides in a museum in “a remote, out-of-the–way” part of Washington state, I looked it up a few weeks before our departure. To my great surprise, I realized we were going to be only about an hour west of the Maryhill Museum, home to this Exhibit since 1952. I never expected to see any part of this Exhibit in person, so I was elated to know I was going to have the opportunity to view it.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this collection of post-WWII fashion, here’s a brief history. At the end of WWII, France was left economically bereft, the population experiencing severe shortages of every kind. The fashion industry in Paris had been decimated by the German occupation, but it was still alive and anxious to make a comeback. The idea for a miniature traveling “theatre of fashion” was conceived by Robert Ricci, the son of the couturier, Nina Ricci. It’s intent was two-fold: to provide a platform for the well-known fashion houses to showcase their designs, with the intent of re-establishing French domination of high fashion, and as a fund-raiser for the French survivors of the war. It was decided to use mannequins of approximately 1/3 the scale of humans (27.5 inches tall), in order to conserve precious materials. It was also decided to construct the mannequins out of wire, making them distinct from actual dolls, and to maximize the effect of the clothing, which they would model.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a "naked" mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and "petit mains" were working with while dressing them.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a “naked” mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and “petit mains” were working with while dressing them.

Joining the fashion houses in this endeavor were milliners, hairstylists, jewelers, handbag makers and shoemakers. Fifteen sets, within which to show the dressed mannequins, were created by noted artists and showcased Parisian street scenes, as well as Parisian interiors.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

And here is another view of it.

And here is another view of it.

When the Théâtre de la Mode was ready to tour, almost 200 mannequins had been dressed. Its first opening was at The Louvre on March 28th, 1945. In its first month of exhibition, 100,000 visitors went to see it, raising one million francs for the efforts of war relief. From Paris, it went to London, Leeds, Barcelona, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Vienna, eventually traveling to the United States. Its final showing was in San Francisco, where the collection was mysteriously stored, post-exhibition, in the basement of a local department store. An interested patron of the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington (USA), Alma de Bretteville Spreckles, spearheaded its acquisition by the Museum in 1952. Although the jewelry worn by the mannequins had already been returned to France, and the sets were lost, the majority of the fashions and models were intact.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.  The drawing is by Jean Cocteau.

Currently, the Maryhill Museum exhibits one-third of the entirety of the Théâtre at a time, on a three-year cycle. This meant, of course, that I would only see one-third of the mannequins during my visit, but I could live with that! My only regret is that none of the designs by Balenciaga were currently on display. (I might have to figure out a way to go back in future years??) But there were plenty of other notable fashion houses represented, as well as some I had not previously known about. Here are some of my favorites (taken with an I-phone, and no flash, making the quality less than desired in some instances):

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Not all the fashions were ball gowns, however,  Here is a sports ensemble by Hermes:

Hermes copy

Honey suede jacket with black wool crepe skirt. The shoes are honey suede platform oxfords!

Day dresses and suits were in abundance:

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Now this certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it feaur=tres a navy wol cat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

Now this is certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it features a navy wool coat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

One of my favorite dresses is shown in one of the street scenes above.  Here it is shown in the catalogue:

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with a white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

And although not among my favorite fashions, this evening dress by Schiaparelli is not to be missed:

Mode Schiaparelli copy

The catalogue was for sale in the Museum Store (and it is also available on Amazon.) It not only gives a complete and extensive history of the Exhibit, it also includes a Catalogue Raisonne and many detailed images. Definitely worth your while if you are interested in finding out more about this amazing chapter in the history of Haute Couture, of which I have here barely scratched the surface.

There was much of other interest to see in the Maryhill Museum as well, including an extensive collection of early Native American art and artifacts, and some beautiful early blankets which complemented our earlier visit to the Pendleton store:

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

And who is this?

It's never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens' Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I Exhibit=gazed!

It’s never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens’ Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I exhibit-gazed!

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At The Met

Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.

The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:

“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.”   These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!

But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:

This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”

Met - Chanel cape copy

Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”

Met - rooster dress

The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”

Met Givenchy Dress

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:

Met - Dior ensemble copy

I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!

Met Chanel suit

After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.

The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!

There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”   But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.

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Filed under Capes, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized