BOSTON — From the psychedelic VW buses parked outside, to Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” blaring inside, the Museum of Fine Arts’ newest fashion exhibition “Hippie Chic” is a lighthearted look at a colorful fashion epoch.
In real life, the counterculture often sourced its fashion from a thrift shop, while the show relies on high-end looks that never cavorted in a muddy meadow or camped in a VW bus.
The knits are by Missoni, the tie-dye from Halston and the patchwork is custom Yves Saint Laurent — hundreds of silk and velvet scraps pieced into one maxidress. A zippered full-length python coat from Ossie Clark shows the period’s slick edges as a Gina Fratini prairie dress in white dotted swiss exudes its daisy-chain innocence.
The exhibition, which runs through Nov. 11, alights briefly on each of hippie fashion’s influences — Eastern mystical, Forties retro, granny Victorian, gypsy, dandy, cosmic kaleidoscope, androgyny and Native American. What’s truly dizzying is the show’s entire content was produced in a narrow time frame: 1967 to 1972.
“Hippie Chic” was slotted to open here two years ago, but the MFA withheld it until a bigger gallery space became available. Curator Lauren Whitley took the lag time as an excuse for an acquisition spree — and the show is much improved for it.
Among the gems Whitley scored at auction and through connections are those from boutiques closely tied to the era’s music scene. There are a handful of pieces from Kings Road, London boutique Granny Takes a Trip, an avant-garde space that featured Victorian wallpaper, unisex merchandising and a trippy mushroom logo. The Doors, The Rolling Stones and Hendrix all frequented Granny. Author Salman Rushdie lived above it, he recalled in a BBC interview, and wished for the courage to enter. One afternoon, he saw The Beatles pull up, so he raced downstairs and knocked.
“He said, ‘The door opened, someone blew smoke in my face and then the door slammed,’” Whitley said, recounting Rushdie’s ostracism from the ultimate hipster spot.
The show contains several of Granny’s iconic styles including a William Morris print jacket favored by George Harrison, Clark and others. Granny’s velvet pantsuits were notorious for being so tight that the seams would shred by the end of the evening. One wag referred to “tattered troubadours.” A surviving suit — in purple pane velvet — is in the exhibit.
There are also garments from East West Musical Instruments, a San Francisco boutique that became famous for its leathers.
The show also pays homage to London’s Biba — owner Barbara Hulanicki’s jumpsuits look ready for today’s red carpet.
Show visitors can play one of the era’s songs on the jukebox and stroll a curvy-walled gallery past garments revolving gently on shag platforms. But one unexpected detail brings the era to life. The MFA hired the Boston Ballet’s wig maker to coif the mannequins. Each do has been faithfully copied from an era luminary — there’s Talitha Getty’s coronet of braids, Marianne Faithfull’s thick bangs and Mick Jagger’s shag. Whitley ticked them off on a tour through the gallery.
“I can’t tell you how many fashion magazines I looked at from the era,” said Whitley. “It’s like they’re all my friends.”