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faar-charles-james-02Cut in dressmaking is like grammar in a language.

– Charles James (1906-1978), fashion designer.

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Dede Wilsey, President Board of Trustees, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco says: “Every costume is a masterpiece.”

What Ms. Wilsey is referring to are the exquisite fashions chosen for the exhibit High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection now showing through July 19, 2015 at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums Legion of Honor.

With over 125 pieces of clothing tracing the history of women’s fashion, High Style offers a broad and balanced view of fashions from the early to mid-20th century. The pieces were selected from the vast collection at the Brooklyn Museum, which opened in 1903 and is the earliest, and considered the most distinguished, holder of fashion designs. In 2009 the Brooklyn Museum partnered with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Left: The Tweed Toga by Bonnie Cashin, 1943. Right: Ensemble by Claire McCardell, 1946 (first hoodie?).

Left: The Tweed Toga by Bonnie Cashin, 1943. Right: Ensemble by Claire McCardell, 1946 (first hoodie?).

Included in High Style are ball gowns and party dresses, sportswear and accessories. Examples are on view of French couture by Christian Dior, Jeanne Lanvin, and Madeleine Vionnet as well as ready-to-wear by American designers Bonnie Cashin, Claire McCardell, and Gilbert Adrian among others. There are also several pieces by the one and only Elsa Schiaparelli, who was known for adding a dash of surrealism to her designs in the 1930s.

Jill D’Alessandro, curator of costume and textile arts, San Francisco Fine Arts Museums comments, “This is a unique opportunity to celebrate masterworks of both American designers and early 20th century couturiers.”

The Cloverleaf Dress designed in 1953 by Charles James for the daughter of a Texas oilman. It weighs 10 lbs., made of layers of different fabrics including satin and lace. Despite its rigid look, it's very pliable and is designed to have a lilt when dancing.

The Cloverleaf Dress designed in 1953 by Charles James for the daughter of a Texas oilman. It weighs 10 lbs., made of layers of different fabrics including satin and lace. Despite its rigid look, it’s very pliable and is designed to have a lilt when dancing.

Of the six fashion-packed rooms, one is devoted to Charles James (1906-1978), a British born American designer who considered himself not a dressmaker but an artist. He was known for hobnobbing with American socialites and designing their unique ball gowns. Mr. James’ pieces, in contrast to the rest of the exhibit, stand erect like sculptures and independent of mannequins. (Allowing us to perhaps imagine ourselves donning such luxury.) For this effect, High Style uses specially built structures inside each gown.

What a treat to view such impressive craftsmanship and artistry, about as up close as most of us will ever get. High Style is a must-see for fashion students, designers, and anyone who is interested in clothing construction as well as fashion history. I suggest spending the day, take time and walk through at least twice to catch the details.

High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection - don’t miss it!

 

 

 

 

bettyhalbreichWhen her children asked me to go through her closets after she died, I revisited all the clothes I’d introduced her to. Only now, as they went from objects of desire to pieces of nostalgia, they took on a new and painful meaning. The Bill Blass dresses she’d once accessorized looked forgotten; the Givenchy pantsuits that had framed her elegantly seemed as important as a dishrag. Her girls asked me if there was anything I wanted from the vast amount of clothing. Yes, a Geoffrey Beene navy-and-white dress, which I still wear. Even more than Mr. Beene’s remarkable construction, it is the human connection that I treasure.

 

– Betty Halbreich, personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman.

This quote is taken from Ms. Halbreich’s memoir –  I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, With a Twist (Penguin Press, 2014).

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

How about London? Anyone going to London before August 31st, 2015?

You lucky ducks will have the opportunity to view Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. This unique exhibit explores what fashion was like in the UK during WWII when not only food was rationed but so too was clothing.

By 1941 one-quarter of the British population was sporting some kind of uniform. Since raw materials and manufacturing had to be redirected toward the production of uniforms and other products needed for the war effort, on June 1, 1941 the British Government announced there would be clothes rationing. Each adult was allotted 66 points a year. For perspective a dress required 11 points, stockings 2 points, a man’s shirt or trousers 8 points. Over the following years those allotments were reduced and clothes rationing didn’t end until 1949 – four years after the end of the war.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

The result of seemingly endless clothes rationing was a societal shift towards more personal creativity in fashion and style as well as a Make Do and Mend approach to wardrobes. Women became adept at transforming old threads into modern looks by adjusting, cutting, and reworking what was already in their closets.

Scarcity of fabric encouraged shorter dress lengths and the ubiquitous uniform influenced the now iconic 40s look of shoulder padded jackets and slim skirts.

If, like me, you won’t make it to London in time to see the exhibit, do the next best thing and hop onto the Imperial War Museum website to read more about Fashion on the Ration.

Cheerio!

 

041514-marissa-webb-banana-republic-594You have to really understand the many technical aspects of making clothes that most people don’t think are important, like how to sew and how to drape. If you don’t know how to put a garment together, success will take a lot longer.

- Marissa Webb, fashion designer and Creative Director at Banana Republic. This quote is actually a piece of advice Ms. Webb offers fashion design students.

1780 button. Wax on printed metal. Photo: Jean Tholance.

1780 button. Wax on printed metal. Photo: Jean Tholance.

Anyone going to Paris? If so, check out Déboutonner la mode (Unbutton Fashion), an exhibit of over 3000 buttons at Les Arts Décoratifs now through July 19, 2015.

Arranged chronologically, the buttons belonged to a private collector and range from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Included in the exhibit are pieces of clothing by designers known for making great use of buttons like Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Did you know that buttons have been around since the 13th century? Starting in the 18th century they became very expensive and elaborate, used for decoration particularly in men’s clothing.

Read more about buttons and the exhibit on the museum’s website.

A field trip to Paris sounds bon pour moi!

 

article-2545981-1AF56FA000000578-302_306x682I had always loved clothes, and took a good deal of time and trouble over them. My clothes were specially made for me, and I turned my nose up at ready-to-wear stuff. Today this would be unusual and terribly expensive, but it was not the case in the 1950s. In fact it was cheaper. Really good quality clothes could be made for a fraction of what they cost in the best shops.

– Jennifer Worth, author of Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Merton Books, 2002).

 

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