Costume Institute Renovated

Last night, news broke that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is renaming its Costume Institute as the Anna Wintour Costume Center. I freaked and thought I was being punked, and it turns out that we all were. Breathe a sigh of relief here.

The Met issued a statement that the renovated space that houses the Costume Institute will be called the Anna Wintour Costume Center, and that the curatorial department will continue to be known as the Costume Institute. The Anna Wintour Costume Center will house two exhibition galleries — a 4,200-square-foot flexible-design gallery called the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery for big exhibitions and the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery that introduces visitors to the costume collection. The Center will also include the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory, research areas, and offices dedicated to fashion.

Looks like a lot of publications have some corrections to run. *cough cough New York Times, The Cut, Fashionologie cough cough*

However I loved the mistaken tweet by Vanessa Friedman of the Financial Times: “Met renames the Costume Institute the “Anna Wintour Costume Center.” And so is Diana Vreeland trumped.” Because even though the department isn’t getting renamed as the rumor went, Wintour now has naming rights to a space in the museum, which was something Vreeland never got in her tenure as special consultant to the Costume Institute.

Thoughts at the Beginning of NYFW

It’s officially New York Fashion Week, and my social media is blowing up. In some respects I enjoy that there is so much coverage now, but I miss the days when content was edited before going online. The competitive spirit to post the designer collections before the next outlet shouldn’t drive reporters and editors to put up shoddy pictures and videos, clogging social media newsfeeds. That’s just my two cents.

New York Fashion Week has turned into a spectacle. In the past few years, the event’s focus has grown to include parties and shopping events, attendees (or wannabes), drama, and social media, that it’s not much of an industry preview anymore. It’s a global event, which is not entirely a bad thing. I like being able to get instant coverage of the collections from the comfort of home without a subscription to a pricey service. I attempt to tune out the extraneous.

The past few Fashion Weeks have seen such a backlash against bloggers and street style photography, so I’m curious to see what will happen this year. Will the circus environment that has been building finally subside, or will this year’s be the same or worse? At least where I sit, it seems a little more reserved than the recent past, but perhaps that is because I’ve tailored my online habits to avoid seeing the most annoying and ostentatious coverage. Although it is disconcerting to read so many editors, including Cathy Horn, lamenting gearing up to cover Fashion Week because of what it has turned into.

There is one bit of news that I’m really excited about — yesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the next Costume Institute exhibition will be “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.” James, the “Architect of Fashion” is known as one of the only American couturiers. He was a designer with incredible vision who built, yes built, some of the most incredible ballgowns the world has seen. He began his career as a milliner in Chicago and rose to the top, designing couture for the most elite women in the world. Unfortunately ego and bad financial strategy were his undoing.

In grad school, I had the opportunity to de-install an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum featuring two James dresses, and I’ll never forget the complexity of those dresses when we took them off their mannequins. They could have stood up on their own without a body supporting them — that’s how structured each gown was. Amazing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Met handles James’ designs, career, and life. There is so much territory to explore, so I do hope that the exhibition delivers more than a spectacle of pretty dresses. I hope we learn how complex the dresses’ understructures were, how he evolved as a designer, and a bit about his life and relationships with clients, friends, family, and fellow designers.

What do you think about the future Charles James exhibition at the Met? And are you following any NYFW coverage or blocking it all out for the next week?

Friday File – Fashion Week

gown by Oscar de la Renta fall/winter 2013, photo by NOWFASHION, from SHOWstudio

New York Fashion Week is finally over and my twitter feed is relieved. Of course we still have London, Milan, and Paris to go, but I find that the reports and tweets from the international fashion weeks aren’t quite so overwhelming.

A friend posted this piece on feminism and fashion week and it’s spot on:

Aesthetics aren’t the enemy of feminism; social codes that require women to meet certain aesthetic principles, and to be constantly putting in time, effort and money in the service of femininity, are the enemy. Fight the system, not the people who do their best to operate in it, or, God forbid, take a little pleasure where they can find it. Gendered fashion requirements are bad. Enjoying the self-expression and aesthetic appeal of clothing? Girl, go ahead and enjoy your new shoes.

Amen! Man, I just want to quote the whole thing.

I’ve also been searching for flights to New York this summer in order to see Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Met. On Monday, curator Andrew Bolton and others involved in the exhibition (you bet Anna Wintour was there) hosted a media preview that was covered by the New York Times, Vogue, and Fashionista. Fashionista has a really good slide show of musicians in their punk attire next to the high-end designer looks they inspired. If you only check out one of those links, take a look at that.

I was mesmerized by this 1922 footage of actresses on film in color striking poses. It’s kind of amazing. You have to see it for yourself.

This hairstylist turned archaeologist has spent more than 10 years trying to figure out how ancient Greeks and Romans styled their hair. Her theory based on experiential research is gaining a following among scholars who study ancient times.

One of my favorite fashion writers, Raquel Laneri, compiled a slideshow of fashion shoots inspired by fine art paintings. I think my favorite was the shot by Joel-Peter Witkin for The New York Times in 2006 made to look like Edward Hopper’s The Automat.

My mom will be in town this weekend, I am hoping to see Picasso and Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago. This weekend is just a members’ preview (another good benefit to becoming a member of a museum), but it opens to the general audience on Wednesday. I’m excited about this new take on Picasso. Have a great weekend!

Pinboard for Love

Heart-shaped valentines card, c. 1850-1899, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Are you as overwhelmed with Valentine’s inspiration as I am? I can’t turn on the TV without being bombarded with diamond commercials. And the internet is overflowing with heart-shaped DIYs. I’m a bit over it all.

But the historian in me is really loving the Met’s love-themed pinterest board filled with artistic works. It’s a look at love and romance within the Met’s fantastic and diverse collection. Much more my speed.

Iris Apfel Chooses the Peabody Essex

A few weeks ago the Boston Globe reported that Iris Apfel will donate more than 600 pieces of her clothing collection to the Peabody Essex Museum. Apfel is an interior designer and businesswoman, but most of all she is known as a style icon. The circular eyeglass shape she prefers is one of her hallmarks, as are the multifaceted, layered, and often colorful ensembles she wears.

Back in 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition of Apfel’s clothing called Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. This show traveled to Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, The Nassau County Museum in New York, and then the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Many expected that Apfel would leave her collection to the museum that first exhibited it, the Met. Obviously the Met has the most expansive and deep collection of historic costume in the United States. So it sent waves through the fashion history world as to why she would choose a museum like the Peabody Essex, which has no collection specifically for costume, according to its website.

When I lived in Massachusetts, I had the pleasure of visiting the Peabody Essex a few times and can vouch for the quality work they do. Wedding Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony still sticks out in my head as one of the most multidimensional and elegant exhibitions I have ever seen. The show included wedding attire from both Western and international cultures, fine art, decorative arts, other bits of material culture from weddings, and contemporary art. So I can see why Apfel feels her collection is in good hands.

My best guess is that Apfel wants her collection to live under the best preservation standards and be exhibited in a museum where it will shine. Surely the Peabody Essex is more than capable of that. Also, by giving to the Peabody Essex, which has strong costume holdings in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries but little after the 1940s, she can be sure that the contemporary section of fashion in the museum will be built around her gift.

As good timing would have it (and these kinds of things always have good timing), a donation by George and Nancy Putnam of Putnam Investments is enabling the museum to hire a textile, fashion, and costume curator. And Apfel and her husband are making a donation for a gallery specifically devoted to fashion in the new wing the museum is building to open in 2017.

If Apfel’s collection had gone to the Met, it would have been lost (metaphorically only) in their huge collection. By giving to a smaller museum of excellent caliber, she knows her clothing will see more exhibition time and will be considered a jewel.

Book File – New to My Bookshelf

I love books. My husband can attest that our bookshelves are overflowing. But this never stops me when I see a great new title.

I recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. So many friends recommended this novel to me, and it was a light-hearted, enjoyable read. The whole book is written through letters between the main character, Juliet, and her friends, family, and new acquaintances on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. The novel is about friendship, love, career, and literature. As a fashion historian, I was entertained that Juliet makes reference to clothing coupons used during and just after World War II for rationing purposes.

And on my last trip to Minneapolis, we stopped in two bookstores, prompting a few more purchases.

The first was a used bookstore, and I found the book Massive Change which accompanied an exhibition of the same name I saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2006. The exhibition changed both the way I thought of museum shows — that they could be catalysts for social and environmental change — and design — that it could address social, environmental, and other cultural needs. I’m so happy I scored this book.

The second book bought in Minneapolis was found in a independent bookstore. Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy is the catalogue of another exhibition with the same name. This exhibition was put together by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book is filled with gorgeous color photos of garments in the collection and on the runway, and is broken down thematically. I’m sure I’ll use it in my future research, especially when talking about the body and its presentation through fashion.

More Buzz

The fashion world cannot shut up about the Schiaparelli and Prada exhibition at the Met, which is great for female designers and will help the Costume Institute turn out another popular show. Here are some links filled with the buzz:

The NY Times discusses the heyday and uniqueness of female designers, focusing on Schiaparelli and Prada.

Zac Posen thinks Schiaparelli was a ‘bad ass.’

Judith Thurman profiles Schiaparelli and Prada in a piece for The New Yorker, focusing on their similar upbringings, differences in career, and appreciation of pretty/ugly.

Harper’s Bazaar reviews Schiaparelli’s work on its own pages.

Fashionista heard a rumor that all the Vogue editors will be wearing pink, in honor of Schiaparelli’s Shocking Pink, to the Met Ball.

Robin Givhan penned an excellent profile on Muicca Prada for The Daily Beast.

Director Baz Lurmann is directing a film starring Muiccia Prada, as herself, and Judy Davis, as Elsa Schiaparelli, according to Fashionista.

And the greatest news of all might be that the Met will be live streaming the red carpet for the Costume Institute Benefit on May 7 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. EST. No doubt, I’ll be watching.

Have you seen any other articles about the upcoming show? Will you be watching the live stream?

A Preview: Schiaparelli and Prada Exhibition

photos of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The fashion, museum, and dress studies worlds have been a buzz since the success of the Met’s Costume Institute exhibition featuring Alexander McQueen last year. It was a hit, and drove scores of visitors into the museum. Lines to get in lasted hours and proved to administrators that fashion in museums can have a big impact. So it was with great anticipation that fans waited to hear what this year’s topic would be.

The exhibition was announced — Schiaparelli and Prada. Two great female designers from Italy would be showcased. Elsa Schiparelli designed clothing from the late 1920s until 1954 and is renowned for her surrealist approach. Miuccia Prada on the other had took over her family’s leather goods business in 1978, and turned it into a powerhouse fashion company.

Many wondered how this exhibition would work. Prada herself stirred controversy when she criticized the curatorial team regarding their process. Even I wondered how deep the exhibition would delve and if the narrative would feel contrived.

The Met has released a preview of the exhibition on its website, probably hoping to quiet some of the misgivings and definitely hoping to drum up excitement.

The full title of the exhibition is Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, appropriate since these designers worked decades apart in different eras. The contexts their clothing were created in and worn in are very different, so the exhibition must imagine conversations by using the clothing as a guide.

We now know the exhibition will be organized into seven different sections: Waist Up/Waist Down, Ugly Chic, Hard Chic, Naif Chic, The Classic Body, The Exotic Body, and The Surreal Body.

I admit that some of these topics sound really intriguing.

Take for instance Waist Up/Waist Down, which will look at Schiaparelli’s above the waist decorative detailing and Prada’s focus on the lower body. There will be a subsection in it called Neck Up/Knees Down looking at Schiaparelli’s hats and Prada’s footwear.

I think I am most interested in the Ugly Chic section, which will “reveal how both women subvert ideas of beauty and glamour by playing with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles.” I am fascinated by themes of finding beauty in the grotesque and other subversive ideas of what attractiveness is. This could be one of the best “conversations” in the entire exhibition.

And then there is the Surreal Body. No one has done surrealism in fashion better than Schiaparelli, and I’m interested to see how Prada’s work stands against Elsa’s.

There are images of both women’s work organized into the seven sections along with a video of curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton talking about the exhibition.

What do you think of the exhibition preview? Are you surprised? More or less excited to see it yourself?