“American Woman” and “American High Style” are two incredibly different shows yet they are both based on the costume collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art (BMA). In January 2009 the BMA entered into a collection sharing partnership with the Costume Institute and transferred 23,500 pieces to them, thus the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection was born.
The exhibition does not forget the importance of female designers, while there was, and is, a greater number of male designers- this is not a man’s world. Elsa Schiaparelli’s wonderfully whimsical creations take center stage. Two hundred and fifty pieces by Schiaparelli are part of the collection. While the exhibition only presents a handful of pieces, a “Butterfly” patterned evening dress and parasol (from her Summer 1937 collection, the butterfly was the designer’s favorite motif because it symbolized transformation) remind us why this amazing designer was not only one of the most interesting but why Salvador Dali and other Surrealist artists often collaborated with her. The clothing of other pioneer female designers such as Claire McCardell (one of the most important American designers, she is heralded for her sportswear creations and putting the pants on American women), Elizabeth Hawes, Jessie Franklin Turner, Valentina Schlee, Bonnie Cashin, Carolyn Schnurer, Vera Maxwell and Eta Hentz is also included. These women represent the most prominent female designers working in America between the two World Wars.
The show also focuses on accessories- and there are enough goodies here to constitute a separate exhibition. Sumptuous handmade evening footwear by Pietro Yantorny (the most expensive and exclusive French shoe-maker from the early 1900’s), magnificent avant-garde shoe prototypes and sketches (from 1939) by Steven Arpad, a French designer who worked for Balenciaga and Delman, and incredibly elaborate hats donated by the milliner Sally Victor, including one designed for Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, line the walls.
Images all courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum: American High Style Installation Image 1. Photo Courtesy Brooklyn Museum; Ball Gown, 1953, Charles James (American, born England, 1906–1978) American, Silk, The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.; Necklace, autumn 1938, Jean Clement (French), For Elsa Schiaparelli, The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Next week…a review of the Costume Institute show