With its largest fashion exhibition to date, “Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now,” the Philadelphia Museum of Art wants visitors to slow down their gallery pace to look at the designs from multiple angles.
With 30,000 objects to choose from in its permanent collection, the museum wanted to play up some of its own fashion possessions. Cristóbal Balenciaga, Geoffrey Beene, Pierre Cardin, Roberto Capucci, Jean Dessès, Jacqueline de Ribes, Marc Bohan, Issey Miyake, Ralph Rucci, Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior are among the designer labels featured on the 61 or so ensembles on view. Trying to amplify designers’ creativity, sculptural talents and how three-dimensional pieces can mold to female forms, “Fabulous Fashion” uses multilevel platforms.
Kristina Haugland, the Le Vine associate curator of Costume and Textiles, said she hopes visitors will look at the garments from different angles, since many are displayed to be seen from at least three sides. The lighting also varies from a rosy glow to a blue one as another incentive to dial back their in-gallery walking speed. “I’m hoping it will slow people down and get them to look at things, to consider the volumes and juxtapositions,” she said.
While the connections between color and pattern are meant to be mulled over, so is the disparity between certain pairings. One example is two flamenco-inspired designs — one a piece from the French house Balenciaga from the Fifties opposite an embroidered gown with multicolored evening gloves from the American designer Patrick Kelly from the late Eighties.
Open now and on view through March 3, the exhibition aims to relay how color, pattern, shape, volume, draping, metallics and embellishments are used to continually reinvent the art form. In the midst of a three-year construction project, the museum is holding off on requesting any loans from outside resources to show off its own collection’s range. When another show fell through, Haugland stepped in and expanded an idea that has been originally planned for a smaller space. “Fashion is very popular and every few years we get to use the big space so it’s really great to have it be the main focus of the museum,” she said.
“Certainly with all the information available, you can see all of the current fashion shows online. Designers have become celebrities. The prominence of fashion exhibitions at the Met and other places had made people more attuned to fashion. It’s easy to appreciate, which is a good thing in many ways. Everyone has the experience of wearing clothes, and can imagine what it would be like [to wear what is displayed],” Haugland said.
Further impetus for the show was sizable acquisitions that previously belonged to Kathleen Field, a woman of “very colorful, exuberant taste,” and Annette Friedland, who favored “black and white styles with shots of color and simpler designs,” the curator said. “They just were lovers of fashion. They were both friends and they bought haute couture as well as ready-to-wear,” she said. “They both just enjoyed dressing and had complementary styles,” adding “their fondness for Pierre Cardin’s designs are evident in the exhibition.”
With “Fabulous Fashion” up-and-running, Haugland is busy getting ready to install “Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal.” She described it as “a time capsule of Victorian fashion dolls from the 1860s and 1870s.” She noted how they have “amazing wardrobes with everything from rollerskates to sewing kits to visiting cards along with all the clothes and everything.” That show bows Nov. 11 and will run through March 3.
“Going for a very high fashion look,” the show required a good amount of “mannequin wrangling,” as well as designing underpinnings and other necessities to ensure that the garments fit as well as they could, Haugland said. Six months were needed to customize the mannequins — to chop them up, shorten legs and the like — to make sure they fit the garments properly. “I have to say sometimes I am very envious of my colleagues, who work in other mediums and just have to hang a painting on the wall. I know that there is more to it than that. But they don’t have to deal with petticoats and shoes, and all these other things like spray-painting thrift store finds,” she said.