Scraps = Fashion Design

Poly “fabric” and tote by Milan’s Luisa Cevese, featuring artfully arranged clumps of recycled silk thread.

On Earth Day weekend, there’s no better place to contemplate beauty, fashion, and style than walking through the Cooper-Hewitt’s show “Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse,” on display through April 23.

The curators decided to shine a spotlight on several designers who have been inspired to probe ways in which cast-offs from garment and fabric manufacturing can be turned into fashionable, beautiful items so that the ever-churning cycle of production can become more of a closed loop and rely less upon consumption of raw material.

Luisa Cevese, a Milan-based designer who worked in research for Italy’s high-end silk industry, wondered if there was a way to recycle the waste from the production process – large quantities of silk selvedge (ends) and assorted silk threads thrown off from the looms. The Smithsonian shows us a collection of her results – waterproof polyurethane bags featuring these colorful production scraps in stripes or whimsical arrangements. Take a look at the Flickr album.

Christina Kim’s choga and slip made from recycled hand spun, hand woven cotton saris.

Luisa was encouraged and inspired by the attitude toward recycling in India, where no one can afford to waste the precious fabric used in saris. When someone’s done with an old, worn-out sari, they are cleaned, repaired, and refashioned for buyers on the secondary market. Hems might be shortened, or other alterations made. Luisa gave the same treatment to these bits of exotic silk – embedding scraps into polyurethane for re-use in other items.

Christina Kim, based in Los Angeles, has long worked with local artisans in India and Mexico to repurpose scraps into full garments and scarves so that there is zero waste. Her approach represents a commitment to sustainable fashion that is not out of sync with other, more large-scale manufacturers. Check out some of the processes used on the exhibition site.

Watch this video of a recent conversation between Eileen Fischer and Patagonia’s Nellie Cohen at the Cooper Hewitt about how their clothing companies are reusing textiles and innovating a “closed production cycle”.

Adrian Goes Beyond Hollywood at FIT

1949 Vogue magazine spread with Adrian’s dress of Bianchini-Férier silk taffeta

The FIT graduate students have hit the mark again in their show Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond, running through April 1 at the upstairs museum gallery.

Although there are film clips aplenty showcasing the Hollywood designer’s work, this exhibition explores the connection that Adrian made between his work on the silver screen, his collaboration with American and French fabric designers, and addressing the ready-to-wear market.

After achieving worldwide recognition for his glamorous Hollywood costumes and the iconic Americana gingham dress in The Wizard of Oz, Adrian thought he might go slightly more mass market. Why not capitalize on the ability to channel an American sensibility and Thirties glamour and make it more widely accessible?

Organic piecing in an artistic 1945 ready-to-wear evening ensemble

A lover of art and fan of surrealism, Adrian opened his first salon in Beverly Hills in 1942 and collaborated with American fabric manufacturers to give the added zing to his collections.

Right from the start, Adrian offered customers amazing cuts on sharp suits, intricate construction (go, mitered seams!), fool-the-eye appliques, and exquisite draping of innovative, bold prints.

The curators cleverly present swaths of uncut fabric next to print ads featuring Adrian’s creations using the same bold designs – leopard print, surrealist-inspired fantasy, and even festive chickens from the farm. It’s all flair from start to finish, and a nice focus on a time when fabrics were made in America, Seventh Avenue (and Hollywood) ruled, and consumers craved quality.

Although Adrian continued designing for Hollywood right through his ready-to-wear years, the show ends with Technicolor clips from films that include dramatic fashion shows featuring fantasy clothes for beach, sun, and salons.

1952 fashion-show costume from Lovely to Look At

As always, the FIT student crew has created a beautiful web exhibition for the show, but you can also look closely at the details on some of our favorite Adrian flourishes and fabrics in our Flickr album.

Great work, FIT graduates!

Magical Masterworks End Tour at Met

Boy’s 1870-1900 hide shirt decorated in glass beads in geometric pattern by female Crow artist

Exquisite detail and spiritual power are evident in every item showcased in the Metropolitan’s show, Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, closing March 31.

The Dikers have spent a lifetime collecting objects of incredible detail, spirit, and beauty and sharing truly dazzling works with the public, most recently in the Indigenous Beauty show which ends its national tour here in New York.

Every time we have visited the small showcase inside the Met’s African and Mesoamerican galleries, visitors have been pouring over every detail of the weave, beadwork, paint, inlay, and woodcarving on the masks, clay jars, baskets, shirts, coats, hats, headdresses, war shields, and hide canvases on display.

Magical colors, geometric patterns, attached talismans, and even mysterious paint splotches pack powerful messages as animals, spirit-creatures, and half-human beings emerge in two and three dimensions.

1840s man’s European-style hide coat created by a female Naskapi artist in Labrador

The majority of artwork and clothing dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but pieces are earlier, such as a nearly perfect Anasazi clay pot from 1100 A.D., which uses geometric 2-D wizardry on the curved surface to convey the interconnection of underground water reservoirs that enable agricultural communities to thrive in the Southwestern desert.

Native designs and magical powers are sometimes merged with European style, as in a man’s painted hide summer coat, which was created by a female Naskapi artist from Labrador, Canada. Designed inspired by European coats, with images for a good hunt, but worn by the hunter for only one season

The curators have taken care to cite the artists in cases where they are known, such as an1880s buffalo-hide shield painted by Joseph No Two Horns, a Lakota artist who participated in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

1910 woven quilled basket and 3D lid by Elizabeth Hickox of Northern California

The show puts a spotlight on innovators, who began making monumental works for collectors, such as the large pottery jar by Nampeyo, the first well-known Hopi artist and Elizabeth Hickox, who became known for her three-dimensional embellishments in woven basketry in Northern California.

Enjoy all of the details of our favorites from this show in our Flickr album.

All in the Details: The Met’s Fashion Masterworks

French 1790s tailcoat with ombré silk satin stripes, typical of young men’s post-revolutionary fashion

French 1790s tailcoat with ombré silk satin stripes, typical of young men’s post-revolutionary fashion

When the Met unpacks masterpieces from its costume collection and talks about its acquisition strategy of late, it pays to take a very close look.

To celebrate 70 years of the Costume Institute, the Met has showcased its recent acquisitions in Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion, beginning with the 18th century when fashion-forward meant exquisite textiles, weaving, embroidery, and tailoring. In those days, all the rich textiles were loomed by hand.

The crisp, clean dresses and dressing gowns on display are in superb condition, showcasing the skill taken in the smallest jacquard, sheen, stripe, set-in sleeve, and pannier. See what we mean as we zero in on the fine details in our Flickr album.

Look closely and you’ll see the 18th-century silk gown embellished with three types of silver thread to maximize its glitter power by candlelight. Enjoy the dazzling stripes of post-Revolutionary menswear and gender-referenced ladies’ jackets.

Poiret’s 1911 kimono-inspired draped silk damask opera coat embellished with silk cord

Poiret’s 1911 kimono-inspired draped silk damask opera coat embellished with silk cord

The 19th-century was all about the rise of the designer label, even though ready-to-wear was rearing its head by the turn of the century. The Met showcases a gem acquired from the Brooklyn Museum collection in 2009, a butterfly gown by Worth, the first designer who truly became a household name. Check out the handwork on those butterflies.

In 1903, Poiret began a two-year stint at Worth, but recognized that as he saw well-heeled clients in crinolines, bustles, and coronation-worthy garb, a new revolution in style was percolating.

In record time, Poiret founded his own fashion house, offering women more ease and artistry as they adopted a more liberated, 20th-century lifestyle. Poiret’s 1911 opera coat shows his unique combination of luxurious fabrics, the column-shape kimono look, and bold artisan knotting for women looking for a fashion-forward twist.

Azzedine Alaia’s 1994 slinky, downy knit dress next to its inspiration, “La Sirene” (1951-52) by legend Charles James

Azzedine Alaia’s 1994 slinky, downy knit dress next to its inspiration, La Sirene (1951-52) by Charles James

Nearby, Madame Vionnet’s transparent Twenties frock with Futurist embroidery still looks right today.

Throughout the show, closing this weekind, the Met pairs contemporary looks with the more classic and iconic styles that inspired them –  Galliano with 1780s French dandies, the 2015 House of Dior with the original “New Look,” and Alaia next to Charles James. How does Mr. James do it? A close look at the pairings reveals new takes on pleating, finely turned collars, custom-created textile, and engineering marvels.

Look at Balenciaga’s perfectly cut minimal silk gazar dress that billows out as one enters a room. Or Thom Browne’s masterful appliques on men’s and ladies’ looks from last year. Or Sarah Burton’s fool-the-eye butterfly dress for McQueen. The wings are really feathers.

Sarah Burton’s 2011 McQueen dress uses feathers cut, dyed, and painted to resemble butterfly wings

Sarah Burton’s 2011 McQueen dress uses feathers cut, dyed, and painted to resemble butterfly wings

Many stunning recent works were donated by designers to honor the retirement of legendary Met curator Harold Koda, who turned over the reins of the Costume Institute to Andrew Bolton. What a tribute!

Donatella donated a reproduction of her brother’s iconic safety-pin dress. Comme des Garcons donated a mind-bending crochet-and-lace frock by Rei Kawakubo.

Visit the exhibition site to see the gallery installations, check out the Flickr album for details, and join assistant curator Jessica Regan in a brief video overview of this exquisite show.

Antonio Lopez: When Fashion Danced Off the Page

Antonio's 1986 Vanity illustration of Tina and Mick Jagger

Antonio’s 1986 illustration of Tina and Mick Jagger for Vanity

Music, fashion, and art were never mixed up so deliciously as when Antonio was working in the studio, surrounded by breakdancers, supermodels, street accessories, and couture. Glimpse the pulsing lines and beat at El Museo del Barrio’s celebratory exhibition Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion through this weekend.

With his partner, Juan Ramos, the dynamic duo changed the way the fashion industry thought about drawing, line, color and style, infusing the typically staid haute couture with ethnic twists, flair, and celebrity in a way no one before had dared. Pencil or conte crayon in hand, Antonio broke down barriers and walls, infusing the New York and Parisian fashion worlds with lively banter, music, and beauty that only a savvy, streetwise Puerto Rican New Yorker could.

The show is a tribute to the 360-degree life that produced the America’s greatest fashion illustrator during the Mod- and disco-infused Sixties and Seventies.

Dynamic 1973-74 pencil drawing for Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine

Dynamic 1973-74 pencil drawing for Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine

The early work from the Seventies is tight, controlled, and more-or-less a jigsaw puzzle of drafting mastery. Witness the Gentleman’s Quarterly illustrations mixing menswear, muscle, and motorcycles, which were considered too racy for the day. Futurist angles, pointed pencils, and lavish details will blow you away.

Around the same time, American master Charles James took note of this FIT wunderkind, asking Antonio to document his entire archive of sumptuous gowns and daywear. Although this ten-year collaboration is not featured in the Fifth Avenue show, look here to see the digital library of Antonio’s work for James, now in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

As the style cauldrons of Fiorucci, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54 amped up, Antonio and Juan began curating their entourage of uptown and downtown style divas, which included legends Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall, and Grace Jones.

Photo of Antonio surrounded by "Antonio's girls" in the 1980s Installation views of “Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion” El Museo del Barrio New York, New York June 14 – November 27, 2016

Antonio’s Girls surround him in the 1980s

The message: live and draw large. Subjects for illustrated fashion spreads were styled, posed, and recorded in Antonio’s hand, all to a pulsing beat. To get everyone in the mood, innovative street dance crews were given free rein to spin, pop, and twirl during the sessions.

No wonder that Antonio’s mature work leaps off the page, lines swirling, accessories flying. Publications like Vogue, The New York Times, and Warhol’s Interview just had to have it, and published his drawings over and over.

In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, it’s hard to over-emphasize how revolutionary Antonio’s vision was at the time. His two-dimensional visualizations left fashion photography in the dust. As Ms. Missoni once said, “He transformed the clothes.” Take a look at the Flickr feed.

A 1983 pencil and gouache drawing of totally glorified Maria Snyder

A 1983 pencil and gouache drawing of totally glorified Maria Snyder. Collection: Narciso Rodriquez

El Museo is distributing copies of the Interview magazine issue that Antonio and Juan edited. Pick it up as you peruse the serious sampling of celebrity-infused work in the show – Tina Chow, Karl Lagerfeld, Billy Idol, and Tina, to name a few. To give exhibition goers a feel for the pizzazz in Antonio’s work and life, there are videos of break dancers in his studio and a great video of him working from a live model as part of a drawing demo for students at his alma mater, FIT.

Too bad that Valentin de Boulogne (Caravaggio’s follower, currently on view at the Met, who also styled and staged models) lived 350 years too early to enjoy this joyful, breakneck, vibrant 20th-century beautiful-people scene with subjects jumping out of the picture frame.

It’s hard to underestimate the influence Antonio had on the cultural beat of New York in the Seventies and Eighties. It was all about the mix – high art, pop art, high fashion, street style, and ethnic culture.

Take a look at Antonio’s 1983 workshop at Pasedena’s ArtCenter College of Design, and see the master at work creating, staging, and transforming what he sees and feels with gestures as large as Pollack’s:

FIT Matches Uniformity with Nonconformity

Detail from British Royal Rifle Corps “Mess Dress” Jacket (1900), a possible inspiration for Ralph Lauren

Detail from British Royal Rifle Corps “Mess Dress” Jacket (1900), a possible inspiration for Ralph Lauren?

Whether you pass a flight attendant in the airport, see an EMS pro at work on the street, watch a referee on TV, or place an order with the counterperson at your favorite fast-food chain, you may not immediately see the individual who is wearing the uniform. You just perceive that a professional is at work.

But how does the uniform design create your perception? And who designed the uniform? What signal does it send?

Conversely, how do designers take inspiration from uniforms and design looks that make us think that the wearer is a rule-breaker, a nonconformist, or chic, stylish person?

The Museum at FIT provides the answers on its website and in its first-floor show Uniformity through November 19, an illuminating tribute to history and fashion that shows how conformity and troubled times can serve as springboards for creativity, expression, and whimsy in the larger cultural landscape.

Michael Kors camouflage (2013)

Michael Kors camouflage (2013)

The introductory video features Thom Browne explaining how he took inspiration from executive and schoolboy uniforms for his groundbreaking Milan show in 2009.

The show then unfolds by juxtaposing high fashion with uniforms from FIT’s collection, organized into neat themes – military, domestic, sport, work, and school. Here’s our Flickr album of our favorites from these themes.

Right up front, the curators provide a visual backstory to the evolution of the US/European military uniforms with two galleries and an iPad that show what British and US soldiers wore over the last 240 years. The experience makes you think about who put the navy into Navy (it was adopted in 1802) and shows that ladies and kids wearing “sailor suits” is a 100-plus-year tradition in fashion.

Mainbocher’s well-cut 1942 uniform for the U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. (1942) and Chanel’s chic military-inspired ensemble (1960)

Mainbocher’s well-cut 1942 U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. uniform and Chanel’s chic military-inspired ensemble (1960)

Although the 21st-century gown by Galliano and the in-you-face statement by Kors demonstrates how transgressive camouflage can look on the runway, Claire McCardell’s little boxy 1947 jacket reminds us how Ike’s WWII U.S. Army Air Corps look kept going for nearly a decade as an icon in the booming US ready-to-wear sportswear market. Both guys and gals had to sport that neat, pulled together look atop their rompers, sport shorts, and khakis.

The hot pink Fiorucci jumpsuit that telegraphed hipness in NYC disco fashion in the Seventies is right at home next to the 1970s Coast Guard flight suit in fire-resistant orange synthetic. As these two electric pieces fight for attention, the curators leaves us to ponder their genesis in the 1940s olive wool Air Force flight suit.

A nearby juxtaposition switches to uniforms as muted, minimalist understatement – the soothing side-by-side designs for worn by WWI and WWII nurses with the barely-there Nineties work coat adopted by the seamstresses and magic-makers at Martin Margiela’s deconstructivist atelier.

1993 Vivienne Westwood baseball cap

1993 Vivienne Westwood baseball cap

Gernreich channels schoolgirls, Vivienne Westwood mimics logo-branded baseball caps, and Ungaro reinterprets collegiate-sports jerseys right across from vintage Princeton blazers from the Twenties and Forties.

The creative takes on all the different types of uniforms screams whimsy and fun for the fashion forward.

One of the show’s highlights, however, is a philosophical look back by the designer who made so many of America’s most familiar uniforms happen — Avis, TWA, FedEx, and McDonalds. Listen as FIT sits down with Stan Herman to talk about his work, life, and the uniforms he created and wore:

Mizrahi Shows His Colors at Jewish Museum

An early 1988 look in orange-orange wool – scarf, coat, and jumpsuit

An early 1988 look in orange-orange wool – scarf, coat, and jumpsuit

For a shot of color and inspiration to let creative impulses run free, trot up to the second floor of the Jewish Museum to see the closing day of the tribute to one of New York’s favorite sons — “Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History”. It’s open late tonight until 8 pm.

Isaac has filled four galleries with the results of his imagining in the worlds of fashion, theater, and film, showing how it’s done when you have so many talents, so many ideas, interest in everything, and so little time. You just do it all.

The entry to the show is a wall of organized color, all pulled from his meticulously organized archive of fabrics and color swatches – a great introduction to a brilliant mind harnessed to bring a little more beauty and whimsy into the world.

Inspired by elevator padding – silk quilting and grosgrain go to the ball in 2005

Inspired by elevator padding – silk quilting and grosgrain go to the ball in 2005

Beyond that, the first room – mostly from his early 1990 collections – is a riot of color   featuring his high-low approach to style: pair something everyday (like a T-shirt or bomber jacket) with silk-taffeta glamor (like a ball-gown skirt). This is where Isaac made his splash into the world of fashion, and it’s a fun, exciting introduction to the rest of the exhibit.

The curators have mounted his fashion sketches floor to ceiling in a small gallery, showing how Isaac maps out his fashion shows like storyboarding a movie. The room also reveals his passion for drawing, his favorite part of creating a collection.

Another gallery gives a nod to his theatrical costuming work and the next features two ensembles that demonstrate his interest in everyday style and good causes: Isaac was one of the first big-name designers work with Target, and here we see one of those 2004 sweaters.

Sketches with swatches organize the run of show

Sketches with swatches organize the run of show

His Coca-Cola sequined dress grew out of his collaboration with a charity that employed the homeless to collect and flatten discarded cans. Isaac had a Parisian couture house cut the smashed metal into sequins and had them hand-embroidered – another think-about-the-world creation.

Witty, wonderful, and full of life – Isaac’s accessories, film, fashions, and colors should inspire you to get a little more creative with your own day to day. Visit via our Flickr album, watch the Isaac video snippets, and listen to the audio tour the show.

For more Isaac right here, watch his conversation with editor Wendy Goodman on style and the pressures of starting out in the fashion industry.

Met Refuses to Draw Line Between Art, Technology, and Fashion

Sara Burton’s 2013 ensemble for McQueen: laser-cut pony skin bonded to leather, machine-sewn and finished with Mongolian lamb

Lasers: Sara Burton’s 2013 ensemble for McQueen: laser-cut pony skin bonded to leather, machine-sewn and finished with Mongolian lamb

As cool as an iPhone and as meticulously engineered, the Met’s new blockbuster Costume Institute show — Manus + Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology — asks you to think about the frocks you’re seeing: does a designer’s reliance on technology diminish the artistic value of haute couture, which has for centuries relied upon handcrafted structure and embellishment?

See for yourself before August 14 and click here to look at the details in our Flickr album.

The show is a meditation on the beauty that can come when great design minds have centuries-old craft collide with technology. It helps to have gazzilions of resources (hands in Paris) at your disposal. The result: really good art and wondrous feats of engineering that just happens to be fashion.

There’s plenty to ponder and repeat visits are a must. Curator Andrew Bolton said that the idea came to him as he examined YSL’s iconic Mondrian dress and realized that this Sixties haute couture dress-that-went-viral was mostly stitched by sewing machine, a no-no in the rule-book of the Paris high-fashion syndicate.

Yves Saint Laurent’s hand-worked 1958 trapeze in his first collection at Dior.

Yves Saint Laurent’s hand-worked 1958 trapeze in his first collection at Dior. Five layers of tulle with hand embroidery

It made him ponder the extent to which handwork and machine intersect in the world of high fashion.

Underwritten by Apple, there are no digital iPads or robots on the scene (like the Met’s revolutionary Charles James show) – just classical domes and arches highlighting masterworks of craftsmanship that cry out for the closest of scrutiny. Although it’s fun to waft through the crowds, getting glimpses of dazzling beadwork and dreamy Grecian-pleated chiffon gowns, to join Bolton in his investigation, reading the label copy, wall copy, and close inspection is a must.

Your first glimpse sets the historic context: The stunning Chanel wedding ensemble under the main dome (a created space made from a false floor across the upper level of the usually empty atrium of the Lehman wing) is surrounded by books. Leather-bound volumes of Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts are open to engravings of lacemaking and embroidery.

Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts

Diderot’s 1762-71 encyclopedia on liberal and mechanical arts

By including these “métiers”, Diderot elevated fine dressmaking skills to the level of respect given to other types of 18th-century engineering.

Bolton chose Diderot’s encyclopedia categories as the sub-sections of the show and gave each métier can-you-believe-what-you’re-seeing treatment. Click here to read more about each métier on the Met’s website.

The pleating section of the show is a great example, beginning by displaying the masterful hand-formed pleats on Grecian gowns designed by Madame Grés and the still-mysterious processes used by Fortuny to clothe boho types in liquid charmeuse pleats at the dawn of the 20th century.

Issey Miyake ready-to-wear 1994 Flying Saucer dress fully extended; synthetic polyester that is machine pleated and stitched

Issey Miyake ready-to-wear 1994 Flying Saucer dress fully extended; synthetic polyester that is machine pleated and stitched

Across the way, you can compare Fortuny’s craftsmanship with machine-stitched and pleated versions, which are no less compelling. Mary McFadden’s pleated dresses were must-haves of the must-be-seen society set in the Seventies and Eighties. Mary’s synthetic pleated fabric was a pull-it-out-of-the-suitcase miracle in a world of jet-set travel and society parties.

And don’t ignore the works in the show by Issey Miyake, who wowed the design world with innovative pleated shapes that twisted and turned into avant-garde dresses and tops. Machine made from synthetic material, Miyake’s creations could fold flat and be popped into action in a nanosecond. His techno-trick was to make an entire, gigantic garment, position the fabric into pleats and run the entire garment through a heat press. Go, Flying Saucer dress!

In every section of the show, Bolton provides something historic (such as the 1870s hand-crocheted wedding gown) bookended by blazingly new creations, such as Iris Van Herpen’s 3-D-printed creations.

Close-up: Fortuny’s hand-pleated, hand-sewn 1920s charmeuse dress; Venetian-beads embroidery and hand-knotted silk trim

Close-up: Fortuny’s hand-pleated, hand-sewn 1920s charmeuse dress; Venetian-beads embroidery and hand-knotted silk trim

Muslins from Charles James reveal classic tailoring techniques by the master engineer, worked and re-worked by hand until perfection was achieved. Miyake pushed the boundaries of modern dressmaking one step further by using lasers to cut polyester monofilament, draping it, and shaping it with metal snaps –creating a dress without using any needles, thread, or scissors.

Laser cutting makes multiple appearances in the show with the work of Comme des Garcons, Iris van Herpen, Thom Brown, and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. However, traditional techniques by historic Parisian ateliers are on view, too – a Chanel embellished by Maison Lemarie with 2,500 fabric camellias that took 90 minutes each to create, Dior’s post-war embroidered floral dresses bursting with foilage, and YSL’s game-changing trapeze dress in his first collection for Dior. This last creation had five layers of tulle embellished with crystals, beads, and sequin clusters by Maison Rébé.

At the press opening, Apple’s designer extraordinaire, Jony Ive, cautioned viewers to remember that technology and craft are not at odds. The notion of care – whether by hand or machine – is intrinsic to everything in the show.

Enjoy Mr. Bolton’s walk-through.

Hands-On Style Taught by The Best Dressed Woman in the World

Jacqueline de Ribes on 1983 Town and Country cover by Victor Skrebneski

Jacqueline de Ribes on 1983 Town and Country cover by Victor Skrebneski

Does anyone want to be elegant anymore? If so, the exhibition about best-dressed-woman-in-the-word, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 21, is the place to take an immersion course.

As curator Harold Koda noted, even though the garments in the show span several decades, it’s a little difficult to pin any one of them on a specific decade. Jacqueline was all about perfect elegance and creative expression – not just style for style’s sake. Go to our Flickr album to view our favorites from the show and click through the Met’s gallery slideshow.

Although she was photographed incessantly throughout the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, Jacqueline was not just a patron of the couture – she was a hands-on designer and style partner to haughtiest of the haute couture.

Her timeless 1988 design looks good from every angle

Her timeless 1988 design looks good from every angle

We’re talking about the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, and countless other designers at the top of their game. If Jacqueline wanted one of their dresses, they expected that she would make suggestions to enhance their creation. What about changing those sleeves? Moving that bow? Making it a little more dramatic?

And she wasn’t above a good copy, either. If Jackie O wore something that was truly spectacular, Jacqueline might have Cassini do one for her, too. Duplicates? No problem.

When Yves Saint Laurent announced that he was retiring, she put in an order for multiples of the same stunning dress in different colors.

Knowing one’s limits is important. When she was just starting out, she knew she was great at dramatic conceptions, but terrible at sketching.

Her own 1986 design in which the body and cape are from a single piece of fabric

Her own 1986 design in which the body and cape are from a single piece of fabric

It was her good fortune that she got a recommendation to hire a sketch artist that some older designers thought might work with her to illustrate some of her ideas. His name was Valentino, and he turned out to be a lifelong friend and eventual supplier of some of the best red eveningwear the world has ever seen.

When she began her own dress line, she didn’t rely upon family money. She traveled to New York and raised it herself, like any other up-and-coming designer. The galleries are filled with her own work, which hold up spectacularly well next to the giants of Paris fashion. The Costume Institute genuinely loves her look, style, fabrications, and full-out drama.

Moving through the different galleries of the show, it was clear that Jacqueline chose and designed clothes that looked great from any angle. No wonder someone called her a “living fashion drawing.” In the white-and-black section, there are several stunning creations where the dress fabric is brought up toward the shoulder in a flowing, elegant, dramatic sweep.

Her mix and match Lady Corsaire look with vintage, Cavalli, and Ralph Lauren

Her mix and match Lady Corsaire look with vintage, Cavalli, and Ralph Lauren

In the slide walls, she’s often shown working in jeans behind the scenes to bring a fashion show and collection to life. Although the focus is on eveningwear, there are marvelous mix-and-match get-ups where her love of vintage, ready-to-wear, and one-of-a-kind layering really shows.

It’s a joy to see how she refashioned her Laroche couture coat into masked-ball Mongolian princess costume and to see her mixing separates from the Express or Cache with turn-of-the-century tophats and Cavalli stuff. Yes, she spent a fortune on clothes, but also shows everyone how to cobble runway-ready looks from easily accessible parts if you have loads of creativity and style.

Bravo, Jacqueline!

Her dramatic 1967 silk chiffon and embroidered crystal evening dress by Marc Bohan for Dior

Her dramatic 1967 silk chiffon and embroidered crystal evening dress by Marc Bohan for Dior

Buried in New York – Divas and Rare Jewelry

Henut does Queen Neferu’s hair, 11th dynasty (2051-2000 B.C.) Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum

Henut does Queen Neferu’s hair, 11th dynasty (2051-2000 B.C.) Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum

While New York City is digging out from record snowfalls, there’s some great news about a few items that have been buried for centuries and are none the worse for wear – cosmetic boxes, bracelets, belts, and styling tips of the great divas (male and female) of ancient Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art moved some gems out of the cavernous Egyptian wing – and borrowed a few things from Brooklyn and elsewhere – for its monumental tribute to the 12th dynasty, Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, closing today.

Usually buried among the collections on the first floor, the curators pulled out some of our favorites from the galleries (along the way to the Costume Institute) and presented them as the spectacular showpieces they are. It warrants a shout-out to the effort it took to conceive, mount, and present this terrific show. What a way to leverage the collections that are right inside the city limits!

Queen or Princess as a Sphinx, 12th dynasty (1981-1802 B.C.) Once owned by Emperor Hadrian , later by a Cardinal. From Brooklyn Museum

Queen or Princess as a Sphinx, 12th dynasty (1981-1802 B.C.) Once owned by Emperor Hadrian , later by a Cardinal. From Brooklyn Museum

The story of the transformations happening in Egypt’s 11tth to 13th Dynasties (ca. 2030–1650 B.C.) is big (enough to fill twelve galleries), so we’re just highlighting a few of the things we noticed that modern People of Style might enjoy. Check out our Flickr site.

First, Brooklyn is in the house in the gallery dedicated to royal women: off to the side, there’s a limestone relief fragment (normally at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) showing Queen Nefuru having her tresses done by 11th Dynasty celebrity stylist, Henut. The curators point out that a telltale sign of royals (men and women) is the distinctive winged-eye look that her makeup artist achieved in kohl. The styling is incised in limestone, showing the Queen getting ready to emulate Hathor, the goddess of love and romance. In those days (2051-2000 B.C.), only royals could sport the jeweled necklace or eye makeup style.

Nearby, Brooklyn also contributes a beautifully sculpted head, said to be broken off from a larger sphinx statue from the 12th Dynasty – a protective guardian featuring a fantastic coif that only a queen or a princess would sport. It was all wigs, all the time.

372-piece cloisonné pectoral of Princess Sithathoryunet. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. 12th dynasty (1887-1878 B.C.).

372-piece cloisonné pectoral of Princess Sithathoryunet. Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. 12th dynasty (1887-1878 B.C.).

One of the most spectacular pieces is the 372-piece cloisonné pectoral worn by Princess Sithathoryunet. It’s a 12th Dynasty masterwork (1887-1878 B.C.). of gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet. The piece is magical and protective, but instead of being inlaid with the name of the princess, it features the name of the king. The idea is that the king himself is being protected when the royal daughter wears it – not the diva herself. You get what you pay for.

She also had another set of formal jewelry — a cowerie shell girdle and matching bracelet of gold, carnelian, feldspar, and crystal. The imitation shells had small pellets inside, which would have made a tinkling sound when she walked. The same is true for the feline-headed set of jewelry of gold and amethyst.

Feline-Headed Girdle of gold and amethyst from 12th Dynasty (1887-1813 B.C.).

Feline-Headed Girdle of gold and amethyst from 12th Dynasty (1887-1813 B.C.).

Sithathoryunet kept these and other treasures in a beautiful jewelry box, which is displayed nearby alongside a cosmetic box. The Met reconstructed the wood boxes by putting the ebony, ivory, gold, carnelian, blue faience, and silver back into place. Magnificent. Look for it all when these spectacular items go back on display at the back of the Egyptian Wing later this year.

By this time in Middle Kingdom culture, the elites started copying the royals, so some of the buried treasures that the Met found on its early 20th century expeditions belonged more to aspirational upper classes than the royals themselves. Check out the cosmetic case and mirror belonging to Amenemhat IV’s royal butler, Kemeni. Or the faience necklace worn by Wah, the overseer who served Meketre, the royal chief steward serving kings in both the 11th and 12th Dynasties.

The Met found a bonanza of fantastic reality art in Meketre’s tomb – so much that only a few pieces were brought up to the second floor for the special show. The show features a real-life depiction of a grainery and sport fishing boat, but if you look on the first floor as you walk through to the Costume Institute, you’ll see many more boats and several more rooms of day-to-day life – all meant to serve Meketre in the next world.

Cosmetic box of the royal butler, Kemeni, with four ointment jars and a mirror. 12th dynasty (1814-1805 BC.)

Cosmetic box of the royal butler, Kemeni, with four ointment jars and a mirror. 12th dynasty (1814-1805 BC.)

The Met has meticulously documented this show online. Spend a snow day (or not) by taking a tour through all twelve galleries on the Met’s web site and listening to the curators’ take on the on-line audio guide, which also features photos of each of the objects. Here’s where you can search the exhibition objects and find more detail.

Hear the behind-the-scenes chit-chat from the curators on the museum’s blog, including how the Egyptians feasted and how the digital team created the replica of the pyramid complex at the center of the show.