Celebrity Lace at the Met

EuropeanLace_posterIt was all the rage 100 years ago – who could amass the best collection of antique lace owned by the rich and powerful, and what could you do with it to make a fashion statement?

The Met still has its Gems of European Lace micro-exhibit on display in a lower-level nook for a few more days, right outside of the Ratti Textile Center. (It’s down the stairs on the left side of the tiled medieval Gallery 304 on the first floor.)

The show blends astonishing craftsmanship with an object lesson in conspicuous consumption of the rich and famous of a century ago. It seems that in the late 1800s, wealthy American women tried to outdo one another with lace collections, vying for little masterpieces that might have been owned by European royalty.

Adolf de Meyer’s photo of Rita de Acosta Lydig in Harper’s Bazaar in 1917 (Source: The Met; gift of Mercedes de Acosta)

Adolf de Meyer’s photo of Rita de Acosta Lydig in Harper’s Bazaar in 1917 (Source: The Met; gift of Mercedes de Acosta)

One gem is the bobbin-made lace cravat end (featured above), allegedly commissioned by Austrian empress Maria Therese and later given to her daughter, Marie Antoinette. The Met cites this provenance, but will only say that it’s “maybe” true.

In the race by society ladies to amass the best lace collections, international lace-dealers made out like bandits. The frenzy only benefits us today, since so many patrons ultimately bequeathed their collections to the Metropolitan and the Brooklyn Museum.

By the early 20th century, the super-wealthy were also acquiring antique lace and asking for it to be refashioned into stylish haute couture. The example on display in Gems is a Callot Soers original made of 16th-century-style lace for the style icon Rita de Acosta Lydig, known for her celebrity-filled New York salons; lace-covered accessories and bedecked couture; and having her portraits done by Rodin, Sargent, and anyone who was anyone at the turn of the century.

Rita's 16th c. style lace remade by Callot Soers in the 1920s (Brooklyn Collection at the Met)

Rita’s 16th c. style lace remade by Callot Soers in the 1920s (Brooklyn Collection at the Met)

Check out the Met site for close-ups of masterworks of needle and bobbin.

 

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2 thoughts on “Celebrity Lace at the Met

    • Thanks for pointing that out, Chris! The tree came down last weekend, so I’ve updated the post. I really had difficulty describing where the staircase is located, and you don’t really see it in the Met’s photo of Gallery 303. As the information desk person told me, “If you can’t find it, ask one of the guards!” I don’t think I’m the first person who needed directions.

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