07 May 2010

The Costume Institute Exhibition - American Woman:Fashioning a National Identity - at the Met

Day 11: The Costume Institute Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spring in Central Park, NO Shopping!!
A day of culture and NO shopping!
I have been longing to get to the Metropolitan Museum to see the brand new exhibition, “American Women: Fashioning a National Identity”. Today is the day.
I met Harold Koda, the Curator of Fashion at the Met at a conference last year. He was a guest speaker and I was riveted when he talked about the planning and installation of the Poiret exhibition the Met hosted 2 years ago. His exhibitions are renowned for their innovation and sumptuousness.

The American Woman exhibition begins with gowns from the late 1800s and looks at the 'Dollar Princesses”. Most of the dresses are by Charles Frederick Worth. The dresses are mouth wateringly sumptuous and in pristine condition. Sorbet coloured silk satin dresses dripping in beads, lace, embroidery. The details are really mind blowing. The mannequins are displayed infront of a handpainted backdrop which fills the room. In this first room the scene is an elegant interior of a very grand house. Furniture is displayed naturally beside the dresses and music- classical – is playing in the background. I have never seen a Met fashion exhibition but I know they are considered mini masterpieces – almost like opera sets.
The next room is looking at the role the Gibson Girl played in establishing an look for American women. This room has sporty clothes and includes tennis, ice skating and riding outfits made from linen, cotton and wool. The backdrop this time changes according to the sport so we have a winter scene for the ice skaters, billowing summer flowers for tennis and a wonderful autumnal forest scene for the riding section.

We are then taken into the bohemian space and see some stunning examples of dresses from Liberty's, Callot Soeurs, Poiret. The most spectacular piece in the whole show in my mind is the leather travelling shoe box, lined in velvet and filled with silk satin and lace embroidered shoes. Really, really unbelievable.

We then sober up a bit as we look at clothes and uniforms worn by women involved with World War 1. Wool suits smartly tailored.

The following room is filled with sparkling beaded and sequinned Flapper dresses. Each one is a work of art and completely individual. 20s music is playing in the background.

Room 7 is clothing worn by women in the 30s. Black and white film clips are flickering away behind some of the dresses which were actually worn in the film. I adore the 30s – sexy, slender, glamorous, mature, sumptuous silks and brocaded fabrics – and these dresses are spectacular. This is a wonderful room.

Once again we are brought back to reality and look at more wool and cotton clothing worn by women involved in the second World War.

And the final room is a bit of a disappointment – only because I wanted to see more clothes reflecting a new demand for clothes for the sportier American woman. Designers like Claire McCardell and James Galanos suplied styles for this new American woman. Dior dresses made under license were also an important part of this new identity in the 40s and 50s. I also thought we would see designs by Halston in the 70s catering to the likes of Cheryl Teigs and the the supermodels of the 80s and 90s who, in my mind, are uniquely American. Instead, the circular room had flashing photo images of famous 20th and 21st century women from waspy 50s socialites to Michelle Obama.

It was a rather abrupt end to the exhibition, but nonetheless, it was wonderful and inspiring to me as a collector and curator. My goal once I get the fashion resource centre up and running will be to collect one piece from every major designer from the late 1800s. I also feel it important to host an exhibition with one dress or garment reflecting and iconic moment in each decade since the late 1800s.

Before leaving the museum, I wander through the painting galleries and photograph many famous paintings which reflect the fashions of their time perfectly. If you look at The Darnell Collection Blog these photos are posted. It is incredible to think I photographed them all standing right infront of them. I usually associate paintings this famous to be ones I see in Paris!

I walk back to my friend Suzanne's flat through Central Park. It is a beautiful warm spring day. Although most of the spring flowers are over the trees are all out and the sharp green of the new leaves looks beautiful. The park is busy with walkers, joggers and the lakes are full of people rowing in the rowboats. NYC looks its best in the spring.

At John Lennon's Flat
I have a quiet night and finish my work. I read all the magazines I have bought so I can leave them behind. Only 2 more days to go.

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