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?).
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.
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!
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