Georgia O’Keeffe was a source of inspiration for Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first cruise collection for Dior as the label’s ads featuring Jennifer Lawrence can attest. After the Brooklyn Museum’s heralded run of “Georgia O’Keeffe; Living Modern” last year, the Peabody Essex Museum outside of Boston is taking another look at the artist’s disciplined sense of style with “Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style.”
For the most part, the Massachusetts exhibition features most of the major designer pieces owned by O’Keeffe including looks from Pucci, Balenciaga, Zoe de Salle, Ferragamo, Marimekko and Claire McCardell, as well as pieces the bespoke tailors Emsley and Knize. And Estrellita Karsh, the wife of the esteemed portrait photographer Yousuf, believes her husband mentioned how the artist wore couture made by Christian Dior. In 1956, Karsh traveled to New Mexico to shoot O’Keeffe. That portrait hangs near the entrance to what used to be her Abiquiu home, which is now a museum run by the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation.
“She really presents herself in many areas — in women’s rights, women’s independence. Taking herself to the desert and the fact that she was a schoolteacher who came to New York to a gallery that was in itself revolutionary. That was very, very push-the-envelope,” Karsh said. “She crafted her own image and the clothes were part of it. In this sense, the clothes not only made the man, they made the woman, or she made the clothes [making] the woman. So no stylist dressed her.”
Karsh added, “She didn’t have to do this. If she had worn slippers and a nightgown, her art would have been wonderful. But look at what she did with her clothes. Her clothes seemed so carefree, but they weren’t — they were calculated.”
Estrellita Karsh once caught a glimpse of the artist years ago during a salute to Pablo Casals at Carnegie Hall, where “100 cellists from all over the world had dropped whatever they were doing to come in his honor.” Karsh said she told her husband, “Look at this woman. She’s so beautiful.” He said, ‘That’s Georgia O’Keeffe.’…She was beautiful as a person, not a movie star but this was a presence — great energy.”
PEM has reimagined its own version of the artist’s style with a capsule collection. Cape Cod-based designer Brenda Lee created a Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired pleated dress, a wrap style, a black-and-white jacket and a swirl scarf. Lee is owner of the design company Cupcake International and a Barnstable, Mass. boutique called OZ. Lee’s husband Peter O’Keeffe has a distant connection to the artist.
Meanwhile, Karsh through her late husband’s work has a more direct connection to another prominent figure that is back in the popular vernacular – Winston Churchill. Gary Oldman’s Oscar run is helping to reintroduce the younger generation to the former British Prime Minister. Karsh’s 1941 portrait of Churchill is iconic on its own, even appearing on the British five pound note. The image is aptly named “The Roaring Lion.” Karsh described the scenario to Morley Safer of “60 Minutes” how he politely removed a cigar from Churchill’s mouth after Churchill had declined to do so. Harsh then recalled how Churchill told him, “You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.”