‘High Style’ fashion exhibit a feast for the eyes

By NANCY BRINKER

Fashion is now solidly situated within museum walls and counts for some of the largest numbers of attendees at museums worldwide.

The Cincinnati Art Museum has earned a reputation for hosting some extraordinarily fine costume exhibitions.

Now, in a magnificent, but concise, collection featuring 85 ensembles and 35 accessories, CAM is presenting “High Style: Twentieth Century Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The show continues through Jan. 24, 2016.

Necklace, 1938, Elsa Schiaparelli (Italian, 1890–1973); Jean Clemént (French, 1900–1949), Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos, 1955.

Necklace, 1938, Elsa Schiaparelli (Italian, 1890–1973); Jean Clemént (French, 1900–1949), Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos, 1955.

This one is a coup for Cincinnati. The exhibit has traveled outside of New York only to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.

Cynthia Amneus, CAM’s chief curator/curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles, calls the show a “feast for the eyes for those of us who love fashion.”

Attendance, however, should definitely not be limited to fashion connoisseurs. Viewing fashion allows one a lens into the economic, cultural, social, and psychological aspects of its age.

In 2010 during a trip to New York City, I made my way to the Brooklyn Museum to witness the show in its first inception. At the time the Metropolitan Museum of Art was hosting a sister show of works culled from the archives of the Brooklyn Museum’s little-known but prestigious archives.  

As a longtime fashion lover/retail professional/art historian and a sometime assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP, I was a bit of a know-it-all about fashion.

While experiencing the dizzying array of sartorial splendor showcased in the two exhibitions, this “scholar” soon realized how little she knew.

Leaf Ball Gown, 1953, Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906-1978), Gift of Josephine Abercrombie, 1953.

Leaf Ball Gown, 1953, Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906-1978), Gift of Josephine Abercrombie, 1953.

While simply enjoying colors, cuts and craftsmanship, I imagined the chic women who wore these clothes. I took note after note of names and ideas I needed to study. I was furious at my feminist self since there was clothing by pioneering designing women whose names were “greek” to me. Marguery Bolhagan, Eta Hertz, Carolyn Schnurer…  So much to learn.

This fashion story began as the brainchild of two collaborative curators: Jan Glier Reeder (representing team Brooklyn) and Andrew Bolton (featuring team NYC).  

The Brooklyn Museum held over 4,000 fashion objects. Reeder described her task as “cherry picking from an embarrassment of riches.”

The final work took museum-goers through the House of Worth (the English father of French haute couture) to Doucet, Paquin, Poiret, Lanvin and Vionnet, etc., etc.

The centerpiece of the original exhibition was works by the great American couturier, Charles James. The Cincinnati exhibition will mirror this format by showing 25 James objects – nine ensembles, 12 sketches, and four prototype muslins.

Gilbert Adrian (American, 1903-1959), Dinner Dress, ca. 1944, Gift of Janet Gaynor Adrian, 1963.

Gilbert Adrian (American, 1903-1959), Dinner Dress, ca. 1944, Gift of Janet Gaynor Adrian, 1963.

Anyone who has ever taken his/her hand to designing, sewing (or building anything) will have the extraordinary opportunity to watch these intricate designs unfold through the beauty of four digital animations created by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the 2014 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.”

Additional works traveling to Cincinnati include a necklace by Elsa Schiaparelli. Born in America, Schiaparelli worked in Paris and collaborated with the key surrealist fine artists, including Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali.

CAM visitors will also see a design by Hollywood’s favorite costumier, Gilbert Adrian, who designed for the likes of Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. Copies of the infamous Adrian dress that Crawford wore in the 1932 movie “Letty Lynton” were later sold in Macy’s and purportedly racked up sales of over 500,000 units. It is fitting that Macy’s is the sponsor of the CAM exhibition.  

Other designers included in the CAM show are: Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy and Halston.

About the author: Nancy Brinker was a buyer for H&S Pogue’s, director of fashion and the Fifth Avenue Club at Saks Fifth Avenue, and the assistant director of design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, where she remains adjunct assistant professor of Fashion History. She is co-author of the book “Collective Fashion Wisdom.”

All pieces: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009


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