|All photos Lieba Nesis|
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology held an opening to celebrate its new exhibit "Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930's" being held at the FIT Museum from February 7-April 19. This is the first collection which examines women's and men's fashion of the 1930's concurrently. The 80 ensembles and 30 accessories were arranged thematically with the display as follows: the first section active wear and resort wear, the second section couture in men's and women's tailoring, the third section varied formal wear of the decade, and the last section silk, velvet and cashmere garb exceedingly plush and intricately woven. Additionally, hats, handbags and shoes from this era including the shoes worn by Fred Astaire, are included in the show which highlights the depression era where these accessories allowed women to maximize an outfit in numerous settings. Although most of the objects came from the Museum's permanent collection numerous items were lent from key collectors such as Hamish Bowles, and Beverley Birks. The collection was curated by Patricia Mears who spent more than a year and a half putting it together.
|Vintage 1930's gowns|
The evening was festive and joyful with many of the guests, dressed century appropriate, clad in 1930's garb, although these days it is hard to differentiate if it was for the evening or if people in New York just enjoy dressing eccentrically. The crowd was comprised of designers, artists, historians, and of course Bill Cunningham who appeared to relish the revival of this genre. There were dancers dancing the jitterbug, or whatever the dance moves were called before hip hop, trip hop and breakdancing, clad in full 1930's regalia. There was champagne and hors d'oeuvres but very little actual food which I guess was fitting since this era was fraught with economic hardship; although, my stomach wished the party celebrated a more prosperous period of time. When I asked Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum at FIT, what made this era so unique she stated, "this was a crucial point in history where fashion moved away from Victorianism to modernism and this is the first exhibit to take an international look at this pivotal period."
|Charles James Tweed suit circa 1936|
Patricia Mears, the curator of the exhibit, became interested in this era because it was the first time in history where womenswear and menswear paralleled each other, whereas they are normally quite separate. Patricia recounted her efforts in putting together this exhibit with numerous trips to London and Naples and vigorous pursuit of loans from key collectors. Hamish Bowles who has a fantastic vintage couture collection loaned FIT numerous priceless garments. Mears admires the fabrics and fibers of this period with "astounding" workmanship and great experimentation. She also lamented the dearth of this craftmanship in today's fashion apparel with handiwork of this level diminishing since the 1960's.
|Jean Patou and Chanel gown 1932|
The exhibit comprised garments from designers such as Jeanne Lanvin, Coco Chanel, Lucien Lelong, Jean Patou, Charles James, and Elsa Schiaparelli. The gowns were delicate and luminous with a softness that was shunned upon during the Victorian era. Many of the dresses could be worn today to the Academy Awards or an Opera Gala, astonishing as to how little fashion has evolved over the years. I was amazed to learn that during the 1930's, when androgyny was largely frowned upon, women wore coats and suits inspired by menswear.
|Guests in 1930's garb|
The items on display would make Ellen Degeneres blush due to their overt masculinity but menswear continues to be a powerful influence on women's fashion. The gowns that truly mesmerized were those by Madeleine Vionnet, who was one of the first to experiment with bias cut, due to their fluidity of movement and soft drapery. The entire collection of dresses was truly elegant and demure yet, ironically much more seductive than most apparel today. The utilization of empire necklines and a slight plunge in the decolletage made the dresses alluring, evoking images of a more genteel era.
|Victor de Souza Jean Shafiroff and Ike Ude|
The event began to wind down as the music softened but the guests continued to pose on the red carpet. I found the title "Elegance in an Age of Crisis" apropos, as I became cognizant of the importance of fashion -not because of its intrinsic value but rather because it allows people to dream bigger than what or who their surroundings are. During the time of the Depression the importance of being able to visualize a better time was critical in the ability to move forward. Retail therapy is a real life antidote to any kind of weariness- it elevates us from the drudgery of life and allows us to remain optimistic in times of despair.
Reception: " Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers"
|All photos: Laurel Marcus|
Last night I attended an opening reception event at Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 144 West 14th Street, called " Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers" developed and co-curated by Adrienne Jones, a tenured professor in the Fashion Design Department at Pratt Institute. This event (open until April 26) could not have been more ideally positioned at the confluence between the beginning of both Fashion Week and Black History Month. The exhibition features designers Jeffrey Banks, Samantha Black, Stephen Burrows, Donna Dove, Epperson, Michael Jerome Francis, Byron Lars, Tracy Reese, Omar Salam and LaQuan Smith many of whom were in attendance. Each of the designers had a "store window" displaying their designs on "Style Avenue" as the mock street scene in the gallery.
The exhibit celebrates these ten black designers who have come to New York by way of diverse places such as the Caribbean, Detroit and Senegal and how their backgrounds have affected their work. Professor Jones, Guest Curator Paula Coleman and Fashion Consultant Walter Greene wanted to show not only each designer's singular vision but also the resourcefulness and perseverance needed to succeed in the fashion world which historically was difficult for black people to make a mark on. The press materials mention that black fashion was rooted in the tailors and dressmakers who sewed the finest gowns and suits for slaveholders and members of high society. "Only a few of these pioneers received recognition, such as Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln; fashion designer/costumer Zelda Wynn Valdes, who created the iconic Playboy Bunny outfit and dresses for actresses like Dorothy Dandridge, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West; and Ann Lowe, who designed the wedding dress for Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy."
I thought it was interesting that some of the designers were relatively new to the scene having competed on Project Runway such as Samantha Black (2012) and Epperson (2008) while others I remember from the '70s such as Stephen Burrows and Jeffrey Banks and the '90s such as Byron Lars and Tracy Reese. The exhibit drew such a large turnout to the point where guests were bumping not only into each other but also into the black dress clad mannequins in the center of the room and saying "excuse me" thinking that they had just jostled a live person or stepped on their toes! In the spirit of the event, many were decked out in some of the individual designer's finest including one woman in a floor length black "vintage" Epperson coat as it was termed by the designer himself however I don't believe he's been around long enough to have true vintage clothing (20 to 80 years old and representative of its era according to About.com). I'm sure I have socks older than 2008 but I definitely don't consider them vintage, just holey.
I was excited to see Byron Lars and have always been a fan of his label Beauty Mark with its take on shirt dressing however I find the fit problematic. He definitely doesn't do "vanity sizing" as I've had to size up between one and two sizes in every article of his clothing that I've ever bought. He wore his signature head kerchief and was accompanied by a stick-thin model (is that redundant?) in a white net/lacy dress with his signature back detail (this time it was pockets, sometimes it's pleats). If he is designing his ready-to-wear line based on this girl's lack of curves I can see why someone such as myself must pretend that his garments come in UK sizes rather than US and shop accordingly.
Speaking of models, earlier in the day I had attended the Desigual show at Lincoln Center and was intrigued by such a shiny, happy opening to my fashion week. It is probably one of the only shows where the models get to smile, high-five each other, jump around and altogether look like they're having the time of their lives rather than the usual "I'm-so-bored" expressions displayed at the "serious" shows. Extra points to anyone who can tell me the name of the young Alek Wek look-a-like who has walked the runway for the Spanish brand at least today and for the Spring collections. She is a delight! And just got a press release from the Desigual press agent...I thought I spied Victoria's Secret Candice Swanepoel on the runway and I was right! Wasn't used to seeing her in clothing, I guess. The front row was "reality show central" as I had recognized Jill Zarin but didn't know that Stassi from "Vanderpump Rules" and Adrienne Bailon of "The Real" were also in attendance.
After a while, the extreme heat in the gallery (there were many people fanning themselves, one woman with an actual decorative fan) combined with the interminable line that wrapped down a long corridor for a drink, made me realize that perhaps it was time to call it a night. Fashion week is off to an amazing start!
- Laurel Marcus
"The Daily Bet" by Rhonda Erb
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