Monday, July 02, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

Philadelphia Museum of Art Prepares For October's "Fabulous Fashion"

Dress 1994, Designed by Pierre Cardin copyright c Pierre Cardin Archives

"In Boston, they ask, how much does he know? In New York, how much is he worth? In Philadelphia, who were his parents?" Mark Twain must have been talking to me -- born and raised in Philly, educated in Boston, and living my adult life in New York. I've been spending some time in my hometown, and as fate would have it the Philadelphia Museum of Art is preparing for an exhibition of its costume and textile department entitled "Fabulous Fashion: From Dior's New Look to Now", (October 16, 2018 - March 3, 2019), the first major costume exhibition since 2014's "Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love." Last week I got a chance to preview "Fabulous Fashion" with a peek behind-the-scenes. In full disclosure, several of these spectacular garments looked familiar to me since they were worn by my late stepmother Kathleen P. Field (1941-2013) and donated to the museum's collection by my recently deceased father Martin W. Field (1930-2018).

Vicky Tiel Gold Minidress, the Late 1980s

The upcoming exhibition will present over seven decades of the style of both haute couture and ready-to-wear garments and accessories from 1947 -- the year that Christian Dior debuted his revolutionary New Look -- to more recent ensembles from independent niche designer Bernhard Willhelm -- to the more radical Japanese avant-garde. Fabulous Fashion presents many new acquisitions as well as other items rarely if ever exhibited before,  arranged thematically. It will explore the creative use of color and pattern, shape and volume, draping, metallics, bridal traditions and innovations, and exquisite embellishments.

All photos Laurel Marcus
Click images for full-size views

The works will be juxtaposed non-chronologically to demonstrate how an idea, shape, or color has been consistent or evolved through the eras. For example, a gold embroidered net strapless evening dress by Anne Fogarty will appear next to a late 1980's Vicky Tiel gold lame mini dress. Items featured include Adrian's 1947 velvet "winged victory" gown, a 1972 Chanel black and white suit, a 1994 Geoffrey Beene silver lame "Mercury" dress, a 1966 Paco Rabanne plastic disc dress, a 1977-78 Zandra Rhodes punk-inspired ensemble, a 1998 John Galliano for Dior hot pink fur-collared suit, as well as garments from Pierre Cardin, Jean Desses, Roberto Capucci, Oscar de la Renta, Christobal Balenciaga, Patrick Kelly, Emilio Pucci, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Madame Gres and others.

Also on view are bridal gowns from Pierre Balmain, Vera Wang, and Carolina Herrera. If you are hoping to see Grace Kelly's 1956 wedding gown you will be disappointed (although it is in the museum's permanent collection and was previously on view, it is now too fragile to be displayed), however, her wedding headpiece, shoes, and bridal manual will have to suffice.

The scene

On my walkthrough with The Le Vine Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles, Kristina HauhlsnfI got to see what goes on in preparation for a major museum exhibition. From dressing and accessorizing the myriad of mannequins from the racks of amazing clothing, to the tabletop 3-D mockup representing how the installation will look, to the walls of ever-evolving real life Pinterest-type boards, this was a fascinating eye-opener for someone like me who heretofore has only seen the finished product of a costume exhibition.

Mannequins waiting to be "dressed" 

Much like a casting director for a fashion show must deal with diva models, mannequins can be less than accommodating especially when being fitted with clothing which can't be damaged or altered in any significant way; rather than the clothing, the mannequin needs to be altered. "We can't seem to find any short mannequins," explained Haugland. "The standard height is 5'11." By short she means 5'7" -- both me and my stepmother's height, generally considered fairly statuesque among mere mortals.

I am not condoning the cruel and inhumane treatment of mannequins (maybe they should unionize or something) but several of these inanimate clothing hangers have been mutilated --legs shortened with a cut at the thigh, arms severed and reattached. Haugland even showed me how one of the mannequins thighs were shaved down by removing some of the inner stuffing in order to accommodate a very tight dress. Other challenges include how to station a multicolored Lacroix catsuit without the use of a "butt pole" or contrivance to prop it up as there is no opening in the one-piece garment. The solution? "We had to drill a hole in the mannequin's stomach," Hoagland says, showing me the silver dollar sized surgical "belly button." The whole procedure of dressing the mannequins reminds me of packing for a trip -- after they are fully dressed in the second-floor workspace they must be undressed to travel downstairs and then redressed at the actual installation.

Mock-up of exhibition

PMA Board of Trustees member Annette Y. Friedland has been integrally involved in the Costume and Textile department since the 1950's. Along with her late husband Jack, she was instrumental in helping the museum amass a collection of current clothing. I spoke with her about the upcoming exhibition to which she has donated many of her own treasured garments. "I just wish that Kathy (Field) and Diane Wolf (another major donor of featured clothing) were still here to see it," she said.

Although there is no Met Gala-like benefit to fund the costume and textile department, the museum has managed to acquire some 30,000 objects from diverse eras and from around the globe since its founding following Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition. The garments and accessories are particularly strong in late-nineteenth-century French couture, the 20th-century designs of Elsa Schiaparelli, as well as contemporary menswear. The museum is currently expanding their Facilities Master Plan making way for much more gallery space to display their vast holdings in this field.

- Laurel Marcus

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