Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
Do you have your tickets to New York City Fashion Week, yet? If not (or even if you do) we invite you to step up to the velvet rope here at the Museum to see what we are bringing down the runway in Dressing Room: Archiving Fashion. Over the course of the next two months, thanks to the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Museum will be photographing select mid-century women’s garments from our celebrated Costumes and Textiles Department in the Dinan-Miller Gallery (on the first floor, entrance off the rotunda under the main staircase) – where we have temporarily relocated our digital lab – which is open to the public Monday – Friday, 10-12:30 and 1:30-3:30.
We have shared highlights from our collection of 1960s garments on this blog before, including Norman Norell’s “Tissue of Diamonds” sheath dress, created for actress Lauren Bacall in 1963, and the Halston evening gown worn by Candice Bergen to Truman Capote’s storied “Black and White Ball” at the Plaza Hotel in 1966 (pictured below).
In addition to these and other stellar examples of 1960s high fashion, the Museum will be photographing pieces from the 1940s and 1950s, all with the goal of showcasing them on our online collections portal.
Major donors of these mid-20th century costumes feature several names from the International Best Dressed List (founded by arts and fashion advocate Eleanor Lambert in 1940 to boost the reputation of American fashion). These women’s place in culture and society allowed them to serve as highly visible fashion barometers, exhibiting through their attire both their interest in European design houses, including Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Yves St. Laurent, and their loyalty to New York City designers, including Mainbocher, Norman Norell, Donald Brooks, and Geoffrey Beene. The garments provide examples of custom styles, as well as a move toward mass produced fashions created in limited quantities that bear the technique and craftsmanship of couture houses.
Of particular note from the 1940s are twenty-six ensembles from “Woman of Fashion, 1947” an exhibition presented in 1947 at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum by Bloomingdale’s Brothers, Inc. The exhibition, held in honor of the department store’s 75th anniversary, featured ensembles all by celebrated American designers such as Claire McCardell, Pauline Trigere, and Adele Simpson, who were asked to define the fashion of 1947.
Garments from the 1950s include such highlights as Harlem fashion designer/dressmaker Ruby Bailey’s “Bugs” cocktail dress, Mrs. Bernard F. Gimbel’s black faille coat designed by her sister-in-law Sophie Gimbel for the Salon Moderne of Saks Fifth Avenue (then owned by the Gimbel brothers), and a 1959 blue linen Christian Dior afternoon dress (designed by house designer Yves Saint Laurent) donated by art collector and daughter of Chrysler Corporation founder, Bernice Chrylser Garbisch.
In addition to providing an opportunity to see these rarely exhibited costumes, this project will provide a behind-the scenes look at the complex process of digitization. Visitors can observe the dressing and styling of costumed mannequins, the lighting of the garments, and how our photographer captures of a range of detail images. Once we upload the photos to our portal, they’ll serve as research material (and inspiration) for social historians, fashion scholars and enthusiasts, and costume designers.
At the museum, we’ll use these photos to help plan future visitor experiences, including Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip, a major exhibition tracing the stylistic progression of 1960s fashion through a New York City lens, scheduled to open at the Museum in spring 2017; and New York at Its Core, a multi-media exhibition on the city’s 400-year history, which will be presented in all first floor galleries in late 2016.
The project has been underway just a week, and we will be sharing more images from these exciting decades in women’s fashion history as they become available. This chartreuse mini dress by Emanuel Ungaro pictured to the left provides a sneak peek of the high-resolution photography we are producing through this project, and will be sharing via the online Collections Portal later this year, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to see these designs in person!
The work to digitize, conserve, and catalog women’s garments from our celebrated Costumes and Textiles Collection is supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Museums for America program.