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Before Jean Paul Gaultier designed for Madonna and Roberto Cavalli created costumes for Christina Aguilera, Berry Gordy dictated the style for three then-unknowns—Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. When the Motown chief executive signed the trio in 1961, he also took control over their look. After he changed their name from the Primettes to the Supremes, the rest was history.
This story first appeared in the March 24, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Now, nearly 50 years later, the darlings of Detroit are known almost as much for their coordinating costumes adorned with feathers and fringe as they are for their chart-topping hits like “Baby Love,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.” And fortunately, Mary Wilson has saved all those fabulous outfits.
“I have kept these dresses in storage for over 30 years; it was my dream that I could share them with the world,” says Wilson. Her vast archive from live performances, album covers and television appearances makes its first trip abroad in May, to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
More than 50 dresses are on display, including original gowns from their days as the Primettes, couture costumes from Bob Mackie and—fittingly, for their London debut—the sequined numbers the three wore when they met the Queen Mother in 1968. The exhibit also explores the rise of Motown, the role the Supremes played as black role models in the Sixties, and their influence on the fashions of modern day divas (cue Destiny’s Child). After London, the collection will tour the U.K., making stops in Birmingham and Bristol, before heading back home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection
May 3–Oct. 19
Victoria & Albert Museum