Arnold Scaasi’s exuberant evening ensembles with bouffant dresses and self-lined swing coats are some of his most admired works. This example with polka dots akin to balloons captures the youthful spirit that was to characterize the 1960s.
Austine Hearst was a Grès client for more than thirty years (and donated nearly forty Grès garments spanning that time period). Hearst had a personal style that could carry off the boldest of innovative couture designs. While Madame Grès is best known for stately pleated Grecian gowns, one of her other design interests was creating sculptural shapes in crisp taffeta. In an audacious juxtaposition of linearity and volume, she displaced her signature pleating and gathering techniques from the body of this dress to the sleeves, pushing the boundaries of technical skill and practicality.
This luxurious slipper-satin ensemble, which epitomizes the look and drama of 1930s evening wear, is distinguished by the unlikely pairing of glamour and versatility. The ensemble includes two long-sleeved overpieces, each of which is worn over the dress bodice to modify the silhouette and amount of skin exposure. Jessie Franklin Turner’s early relationship with the Brooklyn Museum is documented to 1923, when she designed dresses using fabric inspired by African textile patterns shown at the Museum.
Rhodoid was a newly developed material that suited Elsa Schiaparelli’s design intent for this, perhaps her most macabre and certainly one of her most iconic designs. The transparent foundation creates the illusion that the insects are crawling directly on the skin of the wearer’s neck. Yet Schiaparelli was never too heavy-handed: her choice of brightly colored, toy-like ornaments tempers the repugnant effect.
This design invites multiple interpretations. The form alludes to the extreme bustles of the 1880s and at the same time can be imagined as a transformation of the female body into that of a butterfly with iridescent wings that shimmer when they move. References to the past aside, it was a form hitherto unknown in the history of fashion. Twenty-five yards of tulle were used in its making.
Gilbert Adrian’s 1949 fall collection was inspired by his trip to Africa earlier in the year. Although this dress was part of the collection, he famously joked that it was an exception, as there are no tigers in Africa. The wide-hipped silhouette adapted from dresses of the eighteenth century was a form he first worked with when designing for the 1937 film Marie Antoinette.
Paul Poiret’s early designs were revolutionary because the upright, columnar silhouette differed markedly from the prevailing S-curve line. One of his signature decorative techniques was to use folkloric textiles and trims that he collected in his travels. Here the collar and cuffs are fashioned from a traditional French pleated linen bonnet. Ribbons like those adorning festive folk costume encircle the raised waistline.
Japonism (the borrowing of Japanese motifs, principles, and techniques by Western artists) was prominent in Worth’s textile patterns of the 1880s and 1890s. Here individual petals of chrysanthemum, the flower that has symbolized the Japanese throne since the eighth century, are so expertly designed and woven as to capture the implicit pull of gravity as they fall through the air.
Two of Norman Norell’s signature fabrics, crisp organdy and glittering silk jersey, generate the magic of this ensemble. The exaggerated volume of sleeves and bow stands out as sculpted artistry in contrast with the fluidity and sparkle of the beaded wide-legged pants. Wearing pants for evening was a fashion concept just gaining acceptance in the early 1970s.
American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection
May 7–August 1, 2010
To mark the new relationship between the Brooklyn Museum and the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum presents an exhibition of some of the most renowned objects from its costume collection. American High Style consists of approximately eighty-five dressed mannequins and a selection of hats, shoes, sketches, and other fashion-related material that will reintroduce the collection, long in storage, to the public. The exhibition is organized in groups representing the most important strengths of the collection. Works by the first generation of American women designers such as Bonnie Cashin, Elizabeth Hawes, and Claire McCardell are featured, as well as material created by Charles James, Norman Norell, Gilbert Adrian, and other important American designers. Also included are works by French designers who had an important influence on American women and fashion, such as Charles Frederick Worth, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin, Jeanne Paquin, Madeleine Vionnet, and Christian Dior. The Metropolitan Museum of Art will celebrate the arrival of the Brooklyn Museum costume collection at the Met with a related exhibition, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, on view May 5–August 15, 2010.
American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection is supported by Lisa and Dick Cashin, Barbara and Richard Debs, Cheryl and Blair Effron, Arline and Norman M. Feinberg, Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia, Barbara and Richard Moore, Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin, and Barbara M. and John L. Vogelstein.
Online media sponsor