>CULTURE VULTURE: CHARLES JAMES GOWNS AND LANVIN FLAPPER SHIFTS AT THE MET’S COSTUME INSTITUTE EXHIBIT

3 Jun

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TEXT, VIVIAN KELLY
Images of gowns and painting, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Attending the MET’s annual Costume Institute’s Press Preview is one of the highlights of spring for me, each and every year.
This year, “American Woman: Fashioning A National Identity” failed to bowl me over, but there were two highpoints: 1890’s- Gallery One: THE HEIRESS and 1920’s Gallery Five: THE FLAPPER. The other highpoint were the historically specific tableaux created by film-set designer Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight, Public Enemies).

1890’s- Gallery One: THE HEIRESS

This first gallery features CHARLES JAMES’ stunning ball gowns [circa 1890]

A good exhibit, like a good article or page-turner novel, starts with a bang, and this exhibit did just that. We stopped dumbstruck in front of a gorgeous pink gown that had been designed for an Astor or Vanderbilt deb, to be worn to one of the many balls at the family’s cottage in Newport, Rhode Island. There was a painting by Giovanni Boldini of Consuelo Vanderbilt a.k.a. the Duchess of Marlborough, and her son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill. Consuelo was one of the lucky heiresses who wore James’ creations.

Mr. James famously quipped that he loved working with the newly-rich American Heiresses because, ““They have faith, figures and francs – faith to believe in me, figures that I can put into shape, francs to pay my bills.”
TOP GOWN DETAILS: The pink ballgown
House of Worth, French (1858–1956) Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926) Ball Gown, 1898–1900 Pink silk satin voided with white and pink silk velvet in a floral motif and pink and cream silk tulle embroidered with pearls and brilliants in a lattice pattern; pearl-bead tassels
Gift of Eva Drexel Dahlgren, 1976

Gallery Five: THE FLAPPER
The “Flapper” Gallery, featuring wonderful beaded confections by Mme Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou that ‘Daisy’ and ‘Jordan’ would have worn to one of Jay Gatsby’s unforgettable parties at his West Egg mansion. These French designers were avant-garde in that they idealized the boyish proportions of the American woman over the classic rounded “French Venus”. The “perfect woman was slim, athletic, and youthful. Patou referred to the American Flapper as the “slender American Diana”.

You can’t really appreciate flapper dresses until you see the real thing by Mme Lanvin and Jean Patou, in silk, beading, feathers and sequins. For this reason, this gallery is a must-see for costume enthusiasts.

BEST DRESS: Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867–1946) Evening Dress, spring/summer 1923 Peach silk crepe and gold silk tulle embroidered overall with rhinestones, gold sequins, and metallic thread Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Designated Purchase Fund, 1984 (2009.300.1364a–c)

WHERE AND WHEN
Exhibition dates: Exhibition location: Press preview:
May 5–August 15, 2010 Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, second floor

*TIP: Give yourself ½ an hour and DO purchase the audio tour, narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker, provides additional insight into the exhibition and the birth of the modern American woman. It is available for rental ($7, $6 for members, and $5 for children under 12). The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.

For additional information/details, visit: wwwmmetmuseum.org

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