I was very excited about viewing this two-part exhibition of the Costume Institute, because I felt that American Fashion trends and examples were often overlooked in many fashion exhibitions. As you might imagine, I was always excited about couture outfits and looks, but could not afford such items, so I became entranced by the vintage market offerings and the immense possibilities of pre- owned garments and accessories. So out of accessibility and budget constraints, I settled on American designers. At the same time, however, I began to learn about American fashion and became a supporter of our designers and their inventiveness and fearless experimentation with fabrics unlike the European couture houses. The American designer items were more closely affiliated with events and life styles of women on the streets of America, and on the bodies of artists I knew in downtown NYC and San Francisco.
Upon reading the enormous roster of American designers whose outfits would alternatively be shown for the two years total, you can know that I was very excited to be able to view this huge exhibition twice in order to see many of the designers represented one time or twice. The wide range of designs began with a two-story box arrangement in the first room containing only denim clothes. Each mannequin was housed in a white fabric house surround, so that only a single view could be achieved if you let your head drop back, and in this manner, you walked all around the room. No side views, no back views, and no two mannequins next to each other. A single mannequin and single frontal view. Quite amazing. I must add that it was an adventure also to look closely at these houses of white fabric since the viewer had to side step the multitude of people crowded looking up and also navigate the car size shaped stone sarcophagus in the center of the room. This whole exhibit took place in and around the Egyptian wing of the Met.
Denim has always been a true American fabric and look/tradition. An affordable work fabric. A fabric which lent itself to patches or quilt like pieces, or frayed edges or cut through windows. So alone and as an introduction to American Fashion, this denim room showed the ingenuity of the designers working with denim fabric, the inventive creations of the various designers, and the thousands of anonymous people who wore denim items, who inspired artists and designers of today.
Downstairs the historic evolution of American designers began. Each designer mannequin outfit was again housed in a box like structure of white fabric, I will call a cocoon, which focused your vision without distraction. Only frontal view or back view, so you progressed along an avenue of white boxes to see the range of designers and their outfits, each outfit separately isolated. Each cocoon had the designer identified with some obscure word written on the head of each mannequin. Trying to tie in 12 emotional qualities of fashion, which made no sense. The viewer was prevented from walking around and seeing details on the back or side of the mannequin. The constant flow of moving on to the next cocoon was encouraged, maybe also due to the covid restrictions. The array of outfits and designers presented was very thrilling and educational. I discovered a large number of historic designers whose outfits were amazing and whose fashion designs were way ahead of the current fashion scene. I also enjoyed viewing some designers’ works who I have always admired over the years.
So, there are my thoughts and insights. Here is an abbreviated presentation of my favorite outfits and or a roster of my favorite designers for you to view on the web:
Halston (designed costumes for Martha Graham Dance Company)
Rudi Gernreich (modern dancer then designer of flight attendant’s uniforms)
Norma Kamali (outspoken advocate for women designers & independent women business owners)
Claire McCardell (inventor of wrap dress 1940’s called “Popover”)
Fabrice Simon (Haitian American designer bright colors, mixed textures, gowns for the stars)
And here as an afterthought are some of my favorite designers who did not make this exhibit:
Betsey Johnson (big patterns, crystals and stretchy materials)
Bob Mackie (designer for the stars of TV and film)
Lilli Anne - Billie Dugan, designer and Adolph Schuman businessman (importer of French fabrics
After WWII, saving the factories and ateliers of France), 1950 suits & dresses
For a full roster of designers for this exhibit here is the website for you to explore for yourself.
Thank you for reading my blog.
Elinor Coleman, Vintage Mirage
THREEASFOUR-Gabriel As four, Angela Donhauser, Adi Gil
OSCAR DE LA RENTA