Monday, May 17, 2010

American High Style: Part 2

In this post I want to share a little of the history of Brooklyn Museum's costume collection and show you a favorite dress of Jan Glier Reeder, curator of the exhibit and author of the catalogue High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I've learned from reading Ms. Reeder's book that the collection spans from the 17th to the 20th centuries and that the Edward C. Blum Design Lab, founded in 1948 to serve the design community, greatly influenced the development of the collection. Before then, Brooklyn Museum had two previous incarnations of the lab that allowed "a link between the art world and the industrial and design communities by giving access to the collection for study and inspiration." The first was the Textile Study Room, opened in 1918, the second was The Industrial Division, established in 1939. By the time of the Design Lab's opening in 1948, Brooklyn Museum had become known as an important center of fashion research, teaching and display and, Ms. Reeder writes, gifts to the museum's costume collection "poured in for the next twenty years."

One of the highlights of the American High Style exhibit is the Charles James section, with thirteen works on display, along with some of his sketches for dresses. James's relationship with the museum began in 1944 and Ms. Reeder told me that the designer himself is largely responsible for the museum's unparalleled holdings of his work. "He wanted clothing and related materials available for study," said Ms. Reeder, and James convinced clients and benefactors such as Austine Hearst, Millicent Rogers and Dominique de Menil to donate or purchase his designs for the collection.

Ms. Reeder pointed out his "Four Leaf Clover" ball gown, circa 1953, as a standout in the show. Because James thought of himself as a sculptor, engineer and architect, "he considered it his greatest accomplishment," Ms. Reeder said.

The white and black original, made of Ivory duchesse silk satin, ivory silk faille and black velvet, was for Austine Hearst to wear to Eisenhower's Inaugural Ball in January 1953. Since the dress was not ready in time, she wore it instead to the June coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The dress on view at Brooklyn Museum is a copy of the original and stunning in its own right. In fact, I think I like it better than the original!

The skirt, by the way, weighs fifteen pounds.

On view until August 1, 2010

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