Published: March 30, 2016
Men’s Fashion, Tech, Designer Showcases: Museums Across Country Survey Couture
LOS ANGELES — With winter layers now moved to the back of the closet, spring season brings shorter sleeves and hemlines. Museums too, more this year than we can recall in recent years, are taking on vintage fashion and couture exhibitions with gusto, offers a slew of fashion-related exhibitions around the country.
Several museums are presenting capsule exhibitions focusing on a single fashion designer. The Rhode Island School of Design Museum (RISD) is presenting “All of Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion,” through September 11, while the Jewish Museum in New York City surveys acclaimed designer Isaac Mizrahi in “Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History,” on view to August 7, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco hosts the world premier of Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective,” through May 30.
The first major exhibition to focus on the exuberant style and playful aesthetic of designer Todd Oldham’s 1990s fashion career, RISD’s exhibition features more than 65 full ensembles — from Oldham’s Swarovski crystal-encrusted feats of craftsmanship to his Pantone nonrepeating print designs.
“I am most flattered the RISD Museum is celebrating my fashion design days. I had such fun making the clothes and had the great pleasure of working next to amazing artists along the way,” Oldham says. “It was joy to go through the archive to choose and recompile ensembles for the exhibition, and the fact that this exhibition is at one of my very favorite design schools in the world is a special thrill.”
The museum is at 224 Benefit Street, Providence, R.I. For more information, www.risdmuseum.org or 401-454-6500.
The Jewish Museum’s exhibition weaves together the many threads of Isaac Mizrahi’s prolific output, juxtaposing his work in fashion, film, television and the performing arts. With more than 250 clothing and costume designs, sketches, photographs and an immersive video installation, this survey exhibition explores the influential American fashion designer (born in Brooklyn in 1961), artist and entrepreneur’s position at the intersection of high style and popular culture.
While best known for his work in fashion, Mizrahi’s creativity has expanded over a three decade career to embrace acting, directing, set and costume design, writing and cabaret performance. Beginning with his first collection in 1987 and running through the present day, Mizrahi’s inventive and provocative style brings complex issues into the arena of fashion, igniting a spirited discourse about high versus low, modern glamour and contemporary culture.
The Jewish Museum is at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City. For information, 212-423-3200 or www.thejewishmuseum.org.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present the world premiere retrospective of Oscar de la Renta’s work — the first major survey celebrating the life and career of one of fashion’s most influential designers. The exhibition is organized in close collaboration with the House of Oscar de la Renta and the designer’s family and is curated by André Leon Talley, former American editor-at-large for Vogue and a lifelong friend of de la Renta.
Included are more than 130 ensembles produced over five decades. These garments are organized into several thematic sections: early work; Spanish, Eastern, Russian and garden influences; daywear and eveningwear; and ball gowns and red carpet ensembles. The presentation traces the rise of de la Renta’s career in Spain, where he gained his first commissions; his formative years spent in the world’s most iconic fashion houses; and his eventual role as a designer for many of the most influential and celebrated personalities of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries.
The de Young Museum is in Golden Gate Park at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco. For information, 415-750-3600 or www.deyoungmuseum.org.
While not a designer, Antonio Lopez (1943–1987) was a renowned fashion illustrator. The El Museo del Barrio in New York City will present “Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion,” an exhibition exploring various aspects of his work artist, developing thematic sections that focus on high fashion illustration, his relationship to particular models, his shoe and jewelry designs, and images of people he came to know and love from the streets of New York City. The exhibit will run June 14–November 26.
At the age of 12, Lopez earned a scholarship to the prestigious Traphagen School of Fashion in New York, which provided Saturday programs for children. He went on to illustrate fashions for Women’s Wear Daily and The New York Times and eventually became a free-lance artist for many of the top fashion publications, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Andy Warhol’s Interview. He is known to have “discovered” or formed lasting friendships with women like Pat Cleveland, Tina Chow, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones and Jessica Lange.
El Museo del Barrio is at 1230 Fifth Avenue, New York City. For information, www.elmuseo.org or 212-831-7272.
Likely to be this spring’s “blockbuster” fashion exhibition is “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015,” on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 10–August. 21. While women’s fashion exhibitions are commonplace in museums, LACMA breaks new ground in its presentation of “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015,” exploring the history of men’s fashionable dress from the Eighteenth Century to the present and reexamining the all-too-frequent equation of “fashion” with “femininity.”
Beginning with the Eighteenth Century, the male aristocrat wore a three-piece suit conspicuous in make and style, and equally as lavish as the opulent dress of his female counterpart. The Nineteenth Century “dandy” made famous a more refined brand of expensive elegance which became the hallmark of Savile Row. The mid-Twentieth Century “mod” relished in the colorful and modern styles of Carnaby Street, and the Twenty-First Century man — in an ultra-chic “skinny suit” by day and a flowered tuxedo by night — redefines today’s concept of masculinity.
The museum is at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard. For more information, www.lacma.org or 323-857-6000.
Technology in Fashion
Clothes that respond to the environment, fabrics patterned by lasers and ready-to-wear garments that come off a 3D printer — all these innovations are about to have a dramatic impact on the future of fashion. Designers have embraced these developments, and the exhibition “#techstyle,” on view to July 10 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, examines how the synergy between fashion and technology is not only changing design and manufacturing, but also the way people interact with their clothes.
Many of the new methods are practiced by designers in Boston, a longtime hub of innovation. Presenting 33 emerging and established designers from around the world, including Alexander McQueen, Viktor&Rolf Haute Couture, Iris van Herpen, Ralph Lauren and Francis Bitonti, “#techstyle” features more than 60 works of art, from fashion and accessories to photography and video. The exhibition focuses on the latest cutting-edge, high-tech fashion, developed both locally and internationally. The exhibition’s hashtag allows anyone from fashionistas to techies to share their experiences with fashion and technology.
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, will present “manus x machina: fashion in an age of technology,” as its annual spring exhibition May 5–August 14. Situated in the museum’s Robert Lehman Wing and Anna Wintour Costume Center, the exhibition will explore the impact of new technology on fashion and how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.
“Fashion and technology are inextricably connected, more so now than ever before,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Met. “It is therefore timely to examine the roles that the handmade and the machine-made have played in the creative process. Often presented as oppositional, this exhibition proposes a new view in which the hand and the machine are mutual and equal protagonists.” In celebration of the exhibition opening, the museum’s Costume Institute Benefit, also known as the Met Gala, will take place on Monday, May 2.
“Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other,” said Andrew Bolton, curator in the Costume Institute. The exhibition ’manus x machina’ will challenge the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy, and propose a new paradigm germane to our age of digital technology.”
Also Worth Seeing
The James A. Michener Art Museum showcases a choice collection of clothing and accessories created, worn and sold in Philadelphia from 1896 to 1994. “Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion from the Robert & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, Drexel University,” on view through June 26, illuminates the rich sartorial legacy of a city that has often been overshadowed by New York, but in reality has played a significant role in American fashion: Philadelphia has long been an influential design center, an incubator for leading fashion design talent, and a home to stylish women. Featured are never-before-displayed dresses, wedding gowns, shoes, hats and other items created, purchased and worn in Philadelphia between 1896 and the mid-1990s. The James A. Michener Art Museum is at 138 South Pine Street. For more information, www.michenerartmuseum.org or 215-340-9800.
The Portland (Ore.) Art Museum debuts “Native Fashion Now,” the first large-scale traveling exhibition of contemporary Native American fashion, celebrating indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada, from the 1950s to today. On view June 4–September 4, the exhibit comprises vibrant street clothing to haute couture, celebrating the visual range, creative expression and political nuance of Native American fashion. The museum is at 1219 SW Park Avenue. For information, www.pam.org or 503-276-4365.
“Defining Moments: Fifty Years of Fashion at Phoenix Art Museum” will be on view April 2–August 7 at the Phoenix Art Museum. The exhibit includes more than 50 items from across the history of fashion, showcasing masterworks and milestones of the permanent collection. “Defining Moments” will offer insight into how the treasures of the collection were acquired and formed a renowned fashion archive. Garments by designers Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Chanel will be paired with historical works. The museum is at 1625 North Central Avenue. For details, www.phxart.org or 602-257-1880.
“Uniformity,” on view at The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), New York City, May 20–November 19. Uniforms are the antithesis of high fashion. Where uniform design focuses on notions of functionality, control, and tradition, fashion promotes constant change, creativity, and subversion. Yet fashion has often drawn inspiration from uniforms of all kinds, taking functional features and transforming them into decorative elements. The museum is at Seventh Avenue at 27th Street. For information, www.fitnyc.edu/museum or 212-217-4558.
“Gilded Age Glamour” is on view to April 30 at the Bartow-Pell Mansion in New York City. The Gilded Age in American history, circa 1870–1900, was associated with opulence and luxury, especially in clothing styles. This exhibition features highlights from the museum’s fashion collection from these decades, including women’s, men’s and children’s garments, as well as period fashion illustrations. More than just glamorous, the fashions reveal larger ideas about marriage and children, family life and private and public space that shaped the United States. “Gilded Age Glamour” also explores connections between the collection and the history of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. Bartow-Pell is at 895 Shore Road in the Bronx, N.Y. For information, www.bpmm.org or 718-885-1461.
The FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) Museum presents “24thh Annual Art of Motion Picture Design,” to April 30. The museum is at 919 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. For information, www.fidmmuseum.org or 213-623-5821.
If you find yourself across the pond this year, check out London’s Victoria & Albert Museum for “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear,” on view April 16–March 12, 2017. This exhibition will address the practicalities of underwear and its role in the fashionable wardrobe while highlighting its sensual, sexual appeal. Visit www.vam.ac.uk for more details.
Vintage Fashion, Couture Auctions
Are Plentiful This Spring Season
By Andrea Valluzzo
Dedicated auctions for vintage clothing, textiles, costumes and accessories kick into high gear in mid-spring with a whole host of sales, featuring well-known designer labels, choice examples of the iconic Hermes Kelly bag, historically significant garments and more.
First up on the calendar is Leslie Hindman Auctioneers’ couture and luxury accessories auction April 7 in Chicago (www.lesliehindman.com) featuring capsule collections in the 510-lot sale that range from international design to historic fashions and from conservative attire to runway garments.
Highlights include individual designers such as Oscar de la Renta, who is represented in more than 30 lots, including a black and white embroidered strapless gown ($200/400) and a chartreuse silk dress with embroidered and large stone details ($200/300). Three Andre Courreges dresses will also be available, all in black and white, including a white short sleeve dress with black ribbon trim ($200/400). Continuing the black and white theme is a quirky, black and white newspaper dress, circa 1967 ($100/200). During the space race, paper companies such as Scott made paper garments, believing people would soon be living on the moon sans laundry facilities.
The Mondrian collection by Yves Saint Laurent is highly desirable and was inspired by a Mondrian painting the designer bought. A Mondrian dress will be available ($4/6,000) in this sale. It was previously owned by an important client who asked the designer to customize the gown by adding sleeves, making this already iconic garment more unique.
Charles Whitaker Auction Company’s specialty couture auction in New Hope, Penn., (www.whitakerauction.com) April 15–16 will span the Eighteenth Century to Alexander McQueen. Comprising what Whitaker describes as possibly his best sale ever, the auction will boast important deaccessions from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York highlighting America’s Gilded Age.
Couture collectors know well the name of designer Charles Worth, who is the Louis Comfort Tiffany of the fashion industry and between the two museums, this auction will boast 45 garments by Worth or the House of Worth. Whitaker says, “Normally I would be very excited to have one Worth in a sale, but to have 45 is unheard of. I am certain it is the largest collection of Worth garments to be offered at auction ever!”
Highlights include a Worth metallic brocade court presentation gown, circa 1889; a Worth for Mrs J.P. Morgan, a fancy dress costume, 1900–05, heavy one-piece ivory moire silk faille elaborately embroidered in a polychrome silk and metallic gold satin stitch floral and gold tinsel; and a Worth Paris trained satin evening dress with paste jewels, 1910–12, candlelight silk having a white tulle short sleeve, square neckline and bodice overlay decorated with prong-set pastes, seed and bugle beads. Modern period standouts include a Charles James “Tree” ball gown, a collection of Christian Dior garments, including two with Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson provenance; early Nineteenth Century garments and the first grouping from a large collection of original fashion illustrations executed by iconic designers that comes from a former fashion editor of The Los Angeles Times.
Fashionistas will want to add a calendar entry for Litchfield County Auctions’ online auction on Invaluable and LiveAuctioneers ending April 17–18 that will include several choice handbags, including a snakeskin purse with jeweled accents and a Bottega Veneta red leather handbag.
Heritage Auctions (www.ha.com) will hold its spring signature luxury accessories auction April 18 in New York City at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion. The day session will feature top brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton, and the evening session includes Hermes. Expected standouts among Hermes bags include a 30cm matte black crocodile diamond Birkin ($80/100,000) and a 35cm Himalayan Birkin ($100/140,000).
Karen Augusta of Augusta Auctions (www.augusta-auction.com) will present her spring historic fashion and textile auction April 20 at Landmark on the Park in New York City, spanning four centuries with items dating from the mid-Seventeenth Century to couture from the past decade. Fresh to the market collections from collectors and museums figure prominently in the sale, including a collection of Christian Dior cocktail dresses, circa 1948–61.
Also crossing the block is a collection of Claire McCardell designs, whose French-inspired clothing is distinguishable by what she called her signature “McCardellisms” — dolman sleeves, cuts on the bias, and closings that wrap or tie. A collection of early 1900s evening gowns comes from a major museum that wishes to remain unnamed.
Rounding out the offerings will be some modern pieces from Comme des Garcons, work by Japanese designers, and quite a bit of Tom Ford pieces; a fine lame evening coat with fruit designs, 1920s, and from a series of printed silks H.R. Mallinson and Company made, circa 1930, to celebrate American history, is a dress an unknown seamstress made out of the “Key to Electricity” pattern in this series. Among men’s clothing will be some early items from noted collectors Don Troiani and James L. Kochan.
In May (date TBA), Nadeau’s Auction Gallery (www.nadeausauction.com) will present a vintage fashion couture auction in Windsor, Conn., featuring suits and dresses by Chanel, Christian Dior Paris, Mary McFadden Couture, Gianni Versace and Carolina Herrera. Also on offer will be shoes from the likes of Ferragamo, Yves Saint Laurent and Cynthia Rowley along with purses by Tiffany & Co, Elsa Peretti, Judith Leiber and Botega Veneta.
While most of the sales are in America, noted UK-based vintage fashion auctioneer Kerry Taylor Auctions will hold a “Passion for Fashion” sale June 14 (www.kerrytaylorauctions.com). Consignments are still being cataloged but several expected highlights are a choice Jean Dessès couture cocktail dress, circa 1959; a rare Paco Rabanne mink coat with armor plating, 1968 and a Christian Dior London marigold-yellow slubbed silk halter-neck dress and matching bolero jacket, 1960.
Inside The Label: Three Museum Curators Speak To The Strengths Of Their Collection
The Costume Institute’s collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories represents five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes and accessories for men, women and children, from the Fifteenth Century to the present. Due to the sensitive nature of textiles, the Costume Institute’s collection is not on permanent public view.
Two fashion-focused tours, however, are available year round: “Fashion in Art,” a tour led by Costume Institute docents which discusses costume history within the context of the museum’s collections of armor, textiles, paintings, sculpture and decorative arts; and “Costume: The Art of Dress,” a recorded audio guide narrated by the actress Sarah Jessica Parker, which highlights historical costume throughout the museum’s galleries.
The redesigned Costume Institute space reopened in May 2014 after a two-year renovation as the Anna Wintour Costume Center with the exhibition “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.” The complex includes the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, the main showcase space with a flexible design that lends itself to frequent transformation with the latest video, sound and wireless technology. The center also includes the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery to orient visitors to the Costume Institute’s exhibitions.
Behind the scenes is a state-of-the-art costume conservation laboratory; an expanded study/storage facility to house the combined holdings of the Met and the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection; and The Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, one of the world’s foremost fashion libraries.
The Costume Institute organizes two special exhibitions each year. Recent thematic exhibitions have included “China: Through the Looking Glass” (2015), which attracted 815,992 visitors, surpassing The Costume Institute’s prior most popular show on Alexander McQueen, which attracted 661,509 visitors. Both exhibitions are among the museum’s top ten most visited, with China at number five, and Alexander McQueen at number nine.
Kate Irvin, Curator, Department of Costume and Textiles, RISD Museum
The RISD Museum has one of the finest collections of historical textiles and items of dress in the Unites States, with a range that spans the centuries from 1500 BCE to the present and includes representative cloth and clothing from as many geographic areas as possible. Starting with items such a pair of Native American moccasins and a Hawaiian bark cloth acquired in the museum’s early history, the collection has grown to include more than 28,000 objects today.
Our earliest piece is an ancient Egyptian tomb fragment, and a major focus of our present collecting agenda is the acquisition of contemporary fashion and textiles from all over the world.
The richness of the costume and textiles collections extends from examples of Elizabethan needlework, Italian Renaissance textiles, French printed toiles de Jouey, Navajo chief’s blankets and fashions from the most celebrated European and American designers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries to a world-renowned group of Japanese Noh theater robes and Buddhist priest mantles donated by Lucy Truman Aldrich, the greatest single donor to the RISD Museum’s textile collection.
The department continues to build its collections through donations and by making targeted purchases. All acquisitions are made with the aim of highlighting discourses between the new and the old and across cultures. Each new acquisition of contemporary work should therefore open new possibilities for displaying and discussing existing treasures within the permanent collection. Just as RISD students continually look to the department’s historic pieces to inform their art and practice, we will seek acquisitions that allow us to emphasize relationships between tradition and innovation.
Pamela Parmal, David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has collected fashionable dress since 1877, when Alessandro Castellani presented the museum with an elaborate late Eighteenth Century silk dress trimmed with gold lace. Since that time, the interest in fashion by the museum ebbed and flowed until the Elizabeth Day McCormick donation of dress, accessories and fashion plates, which entered the museum between the years of 1943–1951. This donation spurred more active collecting of fashion and important examples of dress from both centuries, often gifts from families whose ancestors had worn them. While dress and accessories from earlier centuries entered the museum in greater numbers, the examples from the Twentieth Century lagged behind and it is only in the last 20 years that the department has put the acquisition of more contemporary clothing at the top of its list of priorities: Twentieth Century French couture, Japanese design of the later Twentieth Century and early Twenty-First, along with the latest in high-tech fashion.
Fantasy Fashion Finds
By Laura Beach
Great discoveries are made daily in the vintage fashion field. Beginning with the Winter Antiques Show’s impeccably dressed executive director, Catherine Sweeney Singer, we asked cognoscenti what they dream of finding.
Sweeney Singer told us that her passion for vintage fashion is rooted in textiles. Her favorite piece is a Fortuny Delphos gown and matching gold stenciled, silk velvet jacket that she purchased from New Hope, Penn., specialist Katy Kane nearly two decades ago. In fact, Sweeney-Singer was still in college when she bought her first vintage piece, a simple 1920s cotton day dress. Other loves? A Schiaparelli coat with an embroidered lapel of red velvet and Dior cocktail dresses.
Charles James is on Sweeney Singer’s current wish list. The show director says, “I have been searching since the 1982–83 “Genius of Charles James” retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum. The 2014 Charles James exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art produced renewed interest in his complex, sculptural designs and use of textiles. It deconstructed the garments so perhaps we James fans can attempt a DIY version, as sewing was this fashionista’s catalyst.”
“What would I most like to find? Anything by Charles James, or another 1920s Cartier Tassel brooch like the one we found under a television set at a client’s house and sold for $241,000,” says Charles A. Whitaker, head of the auction house bearing his name.
James also makes the list compiled by Anne Forman. The director of luxury accessories and couture at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers explains, “I was a fashion history professor before I started working at LHA, so I definitely love studying garment construction. James wasn’t the best businessman, but his garment construction techniques and attention to detail were incredible. His dresses were so beautifully built — like little armatures. Several of his designs could literally stand up on their own. The fantastic exhibitions at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chicago History Museum helped reintroduce him to the public, which increased the value of his garments in an auction setting. If I were ever on an appointment and happened upon a Charles James gown, I would be in total heaven.”
“My holy grail,” says Karen Augusta, “would be a late 1920s knitwear sweater by Elsa Schiaparelli, a great rival of Coco Chanel and a friend of the Surrealists.” An auctioneer specializing in fashion and textiles, Augusta explains, “Schiaparelli was the first to use a new fabric resembling a double knit. One of my favorite Schiaparelli designs is a quirky, whimsical sweater with a trompe l’oeil scarf on it. Her sportswear was revolutionary. She was the first to put an interior bra in a bathing suit and, long before Diane Furstenberg, developed the jersey wrap dress.”
Given Heritage Auction’s stellar track record selling luxury accessories, it is no wonder that Max Brownawell dreams of finding a Birkin bag used by muse Jane Birkin herself. The department’s senior specialist notes, “She really embodies the spirit of the bag in a way that most other collectors could not. When Jane gets a new Birkin she reportedly stomps all over it to wear it in and she decorates it with stickers and charms from her life and her travels. The original Birkin was actually made with a built-in shoulder strap, so finding one of those that had been made for Jane herself would be a huge treat. She has sold some in the past for charity. They tend to bring huge sums compared to regular leather Birkins, especially considering the fact that she uses her Birkins aggressively! In the current market, the highest premiums go to bags that are brand new, straight from the store. It would be so fun to offer a bag that has been used heavily and loved for a long time, but would end up bringing far more than a new one.”
Fashion and fame are inextricably linked, as Kate Osborn of London-based Kerry Taylor Auctions reminds us. Osborn, who has been with the firm since 2007, was thrilled to work with Givenchy’s timeless, elegant gowns and coats for Audrey Hepburn. Her fantasy find? The dress worn in Richard Avedon’s photograph “Dovima with the Elephants,” taken at the Cirque d’hiver, Paris, in August 1955. “It’s from the first collection by Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior,” she says.
Auctioneer Darren Julien says he is not the only enthusiast on the hunt for James Dean’s red jacket from Rebel Without A Cause. The field is rife with bogus sightings, notes Julien. “If the real jacket with accurate provenance were found, it would be very historic and valuable.”
Happily for these cognoscenti, all is possible in the still fertile field of vintage fashion.
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