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Costume Institute’s Ode to American Women

Costume Institute exhibit explores various stages in the American Woman's history.

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NEW YORK — From a visual of Washington Square Arch framing the entrance to Lenny Kravitz’s “American Song” serving as the soundtrack to the finale photo and video installation of America’s female icons then and now, the Costume Institute’s “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” exhibit feels like a journey through this country’s past through the fashion lens.

In a series of atmospheric oval and circular rooms, the Metropolitan Museum of Art brings to life the different stages of the American female identity, from “The Heiress” in a room inspired by Mrs. Astor’s Newport mansion and garments by Charles Frederick Worth, to “The Gibson Girl” exploring sports in all seasons, and “The Bohemian,” who seems right at home in environs inspired by the Tiffany Studios.

This story first appeared in the April 30, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The exhibit strikes a political note in a gallery devoted to “Suffragists” and “Patriots” with actual footage of the movement marches and banners from the era, which is followed by “The Flapper,” which represents the sexual and economic emancipation of women in a skyscraper backdrop loosely inspired by Tamara de Lempicka’s Art Deco paintings, according to curator Andrew Bolton.


See a video of the exhibit here >>

Perhaps the most quintessential symbol of America to the world could well be the “Screen Siren.” It features mannequins in glamorous gowns set against screens showing scenes from famous Thirties movies, and including Hollywood icons such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth.

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