San Francisco’s The Legion of Honor on Saturday opens the first true fashion exhibition in its 91-year history.
“High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection” surveys 20th century style from the early 1900’s to 1980 and features 65 mannequins in apparel ranging from couture gowns to classic American sportswear selected by Jan Glier Reeder, consulting curator for the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Accompanying the core looks are 35 accessories, fashion sketches and digital animations rendered by New York interdisciplinary design studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro to analyze the form and structure of Fifties-era Charles James gowns through 3D scans, 360-degree photography, X-rays and microscopy. Originally created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibition, the animations highlight the designer’s architectural approach.
Joining the pieces from New York is a cinched-waist, Yves Saint Laurent trapeze dress and hat gifted from a private owner to the Fine Arts Museums. It was originally designed as part of the first Christian Dior collection the then-21-year-old Saint Laurent put forth in the role of head designer.
“The identical piece is in the Brooklyn collection. We decided to put our piece in as a nod to our collection,” Jill D’Alessandro, curator of costumes and textile arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said.
The exhibition also puts an emphasis on 20th century female designers, with Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Gabrielle Chanel, Bonnie Cashin, Elizabeth Hawes, Claire McCardell and Sally Victor.
As the hemlines and silhouettes change from decade to decade, with the earliest piece a Jacques Doucet afternoon dress dated 1903, D’Alessandro noted, “I think what’s really interesting is that what we’re seeing is the styles really reflect the political and social climates.”
Among the highlights on display inside the Beaux-Arts-style Legion of Honor is Schiaparelli’s necklace of tin insects from 1938, James’ 1953 clover leaf ball gown, a Steven Arpad evening pump prototype from 1939, an early 1970’s organdy and beaded silk jersey Norman Norell evening ensemble and Gilbert Adrian’s 1949 tiger ball gown.
The exhibition is open in San Francisco from Saturday to July 19.